Monday, January 8, 2018

Review: Shawn says boot up your gaming system and play "Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle!"

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle Review

Sometimes, there are experiences at a movie theater which I can honestly say, I never expected to have. I always welcome it, and when I walked out of the auditorium after seeing “Jumanji: Welcome to The Jungle,” I had just seen a film that I didn’t expect to like as much as I did. In fact, if you remember when I reviewed the first trailer, I had zero hope for the film. I thought it was going to be lame. It seemed like a shameless way to make money off of a movie that, quite frankly, wasn’t that popular on its original release. What was the point of bringing something back that wasn’t that popular in the first place? Well, that’s Sony for you, they’ve been throwing everything at the wall, just to see what will stick.

I have fond memories of listening to the original book throughout my formative years. When the movie came out, I remember my cousin rented it on day and brought it over to watch with my brother and I. I remember even at a young age, I wasn’t too crazy about the movie, even at such a young age. I didn’t find it particularly thrilling, I couldn’t get past how glaringly bad the special effects were, and I was mainly bored. So, when Sony announced that they would make another Jumanji movie, but in a video game, it just seemed lamer than before, and all the big stars involved in the film couldn’t perk my interest.

I sat back, waiting for to roll my eyes, waiting to see something horrifically cheesy. But I never did. Even from the beginning, I thought the Jumanji video game was going to just be a stupid update. But its not, not quite. The movie begins in 1996, and a man jogging on the beach finds the Jumanji board game, the one you know. He delivers it to his son Alex Vreek (Mason Guccione) who can’t be bothered. Nobody played board games in the world of video games. Then one night, the board game magically morphs into video game cartridge. Alex puts the game into his system, and vanishes. So, this wasn’t a silly modern update, they at least explain how the game works. The board game is kind of similar to the video tape from “The Ring,” it’s magic is immensely powerful.

Twenty years later, we find four high schoolers on the eve of being in detention. Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff) and Anthony Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain) are taken to detention because Spencer wrote a paper for Anthony and they got caught. They used to be best friends in their formative years, but once they got to high school, Johnson joined the football team and his friendship with Spencer fell by the wayside. Bethany (Madison Iseman) is the typical social media obsessed, ditsy popular girl who gets detention for making a phone call in the middle of class. Then there is Martha (Morgan Turner) tells off one of her teachers. They end up in the basement of the school, cleaning out and organizing it. They stumble across a video game system with the Jumanji cartridge in it. The group decides to take a break and play a game. They choose their characters, and then suddenly are pulled into the game.
Spencer picks Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) who is a master at seemingly every skill with no weaknesses. Anthony picks Franklin Finbar (Kevin Hart) a zoologist with no special skills, is Bravestone’s sidekick and whose weaknesses include strength, speed and cake. Bethany picks Professor Shelly Oberon, (Jack Black) which happens to be short for Sheldon. And Martha picks Ruby Roundkick (Karen Gillen) a Lara Croft type character. They must work as a team to find a missing jewel and put it back in a giant tiger statue, which will lift the curse, allowing them to go home. They are being persued by the game’s boss Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale)

There are some really good gamer jokes in this. Each character has three black line tattoos on their wrists to showcase their three lives. There is also some funny material involving non-player characters, who always seem to have a limited response to things to say. The screenwriters really did their homework here, and the result is a richly imagined, clever screenplay that makes some really good jokes about video games. I think video game lovers will get a kick out of this. And everyone else? The extra laughs will go over your head, without making you feel left out.

The big stars take over for the rest of the film once the kids get trapped in the video game. I know that Dwayne Johnson is already cast as Black Adam for the DCEU, but I would have killed to have him play Shazam. He is incredibly good at playing kiddish personalities in a big masculine body. He does such a good job of playing a teenager in a Rock suit that I had to applaud. As does Karen Gillen, who has one of the best scenes of the movie as she tries to seduce some evil guards (Martha is the type of girl who has never flirted before, and it leads to some big laughs). Kevin Hart has the usual great chemistry with Dwayne Johnson, and he generates some good laughs. But no doubt, the fan favorite coming out of the film will be Jack Black, the way he pretends to be a teenage girl is almost frighteningly spot-on, and with a smart screenplay to work with, he allows himself to flourish.

I couldn’t get over just how clever the screenplay was. Yes, the teenagers use the game to get over some real emotions that they’ve been feeling, but that was to be expected in a movie like this. It feels natural though, not forced. The special effects work is vastly superior compared to its older counterpart, but that was to be expected, it was good that they tried though. Look for a special connection to the first movie hidden in the middle of the film though! When Nick Jonas joins the fray, he seems to fit right in.

The movie is a wild, adventurous good time. And while its not a flawless film, there are some nitpicks that I have. When my wife and I went to go see the movie, it was filled with families. This is billed as a family movie, no doubt. So, when Kevin Hart has his Dave Chappelle moment, it feels wildly out of place here and parents should be warned that there is a moment or two of foul language. I also pity the parents who have to explain some certain sensual talk in this movie. Even in 2018, filmmakers need to be aware of the audiences they are trying to get into the theaters to see their movie. Thankfully, the movie doesn’t struggle with tone all movie, which I am pleased to report.

As the movie went along, I couldn’t believe how much I felt thrilled by what I was watching. I can’t believe how much I laughed. I couldn’t believe how much I had a good time. I have my first kid on the way, and I looking forward to sharing the book Jumanji with them. I was hesitant about showing them the first movie, but perhaps this sequel will be the film I can’t wait to share with my child. This is a movie to gather your children to and enjoy!

FINAL GRADE: A

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