Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

 

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In this slice of Indiana Jones-lite, there’s something for everyone, particularly fans of The Rock and Jack Black.

 

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan listen to Kevin Hart's tall story

 

Since the release of the original Jumanji in 1995, the worlds of virtual reality and ‘gaming’ have made exponential leaps and bounds. In a way, then, this sequel would seem to offer a more pertinent slice of escapist entertainment. Following the mandatory prologue, set in 1996, the film jumps forward twenty years to the present, where four mavericks from Brantford High find themselves in detention and forced to tidy up the school basement. There, Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), the school nerd, discovers a console game called ‘Jumanji,’ named after the Zulu word for “many effects.” Opting to take on the avatar of ‘Dr. Smolder Bravestone,’ Spencer coaxes his fellow miscreants into adopting their own alter egos. Then, lo and behold, they are literally transported into a whole new world: a world of prodigious plant life, gun-wielding hunters and very, very dangerous animals. And, only when they’ve completed the game’s death–defying obstacle course, can they return to their former selves.

 

While the four teenagers are engagingly played by Wolff, Ser'Darius Blain, Madison Iseman and Morgan Turner, their avatars are what really brings the film to life. Whereas the first Jumanji had to rely entirely on the comic arsenal of Robin Williams, its sequel has four comic talents to bat the ball around. And, surely, Dwayne Johnson – as Spencer’s avatar – has never been funnier. In spite of his spectacular physique, he is still every inch the insecure schoolboy and has to mutter to himself, “Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.” Even more wacky is the casting of Jack Black as Brantford’s spoiled princess Bethany Walker, who is now forced to come to terms with being an overweight, middle-aged man (“I look like a garden gnome!”). Kevin Hart, as ‘Fridge’, retains his gender and skin colour, but is reduced to a man half his size with a fatal appetite for cake. But the real surprise is Scotland’s Karen Gillan, whose plain-Jane wallflower Martha is transformed into a midriff-flashing, ass-kicking female commando, not a million miles from Lara Croft. A highlight is when Jack Black, every inch the modern prom queen, teaches Martha how to flirt, toss her hair and nibble her lower lip in order to distract two guards. Pleased with his tuition, Jack Black crows, “I’m just saying you’re a babe. Own it.” The joke is that the teenagers’ physical avatars are in direct contrast to themselves – and the cast pulls off the dilemma with comic panache.

 

Filmed in the jungles of Honolulu and directed at a cracking pace by Jake Kasdan, the film makes the most of its CGI (thundering rhinos, man-swallowing hippos, terrifying crocodiles), while tipping its hat to Raiders of the Lost Ark (Henry Jackman’s score steals more than a few notes from John Williams’ legendary theme). Above all, it’s a fun ride, slipping from moments of genuine humour to buttock-clenching suspense. And while Jack Black’s Bethany Walker cannot enjoy her new male appendage more, it’s handled discreetly enough to pass over the heads of younger viewers. At the screening I attended, the cinema was packed with the very young and they couldn’t stop laughing at the physical antics – while staying very quiet during the black mamba sequence.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale, Rhys Darby, Ser'Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, Alex Wolff, Marc Evan Jackson, Colin Hanks, Maribeth Monroe, Missi Pyle, Tracey Bonner, Tim Matheson (uncredited).

 

Dir Jake Kasdan, Pro Matt Tolmach and William Teitler, Screenplay Jake Kasdan, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner, from a story by Chris McKenna, Ph Gyula Pados, Pro Des Owen Paterson, Ed Mark Helfrich and Steve Edwards, Music Henry Jackman, Costumes Laura Jean Shannon.

 

Columbia Pictures/Matt Tolmach Productions/Radar Pictures/Seven Bucks Productions-Sony Pictures. 118 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 20 December 2017. Cert. 12A.