Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a sort of sequel, but really more of a follow-up story, to the original Jumanji released in 1995. We start this film one year after the original story of a board game which brought chaos to the town of Brantford, New Hampshire. The mystical board game adapts to its time and transforms itself into a cartridge for a video game. Four high school students who are given a chore to clean out some school storage areas as a punishment find this video game in 2017, and decide to give it a play as a distraction from their detention. Each of the four students suddenly finds themself inside the video game as the character they chose to play, and they also find that they must complete the game in order to escape.
The story of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is its weakest element as it is really nothing more than an excuse for jokes and action scenes. The villain of the film is so weak and so personality-free that he may as well not exist. I am not exaggerating when I say that if the villain were edited completely out of the film but nothing else was changed you wouldn’t notice a difference to the story other than it would be tighter and shorter. As to the actual goal of taking a jewel to a gigantic statue and replacing it, it’s just a reason for the characters to not remain in one place and we never get any real sense of travel in the film, we just get to see that one scene takes place in a village, another in a chasm, and so on.
As for the movie’s greatest strength, that would be its performances and particularly the one given by Jack Black. The main conceit of the film allows for each of the four main actors to play characters who are against type, and while all have some fun with the idea, it’s Black that really throws himself into his character of the beautiful but insecure Instagram girl and ends up giving us a performance that is hilarious but also touching, relatable, and believable. He impresses so much that when I was describing the film to friends afterward I kept using “she” as the pronoun I’d refer to Jack Black with. The other actors were all funny and obviously had a good time, but none manage to give the honest performance Black did. The Rock occasionally remembers he’s supposed to be a teenage nerd who is afraid of everything, but most of the time he’s just having a grand time mugging for the camera, which since he’s so good at it is not at all a bad thing. Karen Gillan also largely just plays herself, but does have one fantastic scene with Jack Black in which she gets to be the shy wallflower. Finally, Kevin Hart just acts like himself the entire time forgetting he’s actually supposed to be a high school football player. Skill of performance aside, though, all four are very funny, charming, and have incredible chemistry which do make the movie worth watching.
The video game element of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle also allows for some clever humor and situations. The fact that the movie is meant to actually be a video game actually makes this a better video game film than any film actually based on an existing video game franchise as it never pretends to be anything else and can, therefore, have fun with video game tropes and cliches. The downside to this is that once you learn what these tropes are or if you are an avid gamer it makes the film predictable as the rules of the world tend to telegraph how any given situation will be overcome.
Final Verdict: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a fantastic film for kids, and still a relatively good one for the adults who take them. The story is as predictable as they come, but the charming cast and the comedy at the expense of video games make up for that and make for an entertaining ride. If the kids want to see this one, take them, but if it’s your adult friends who want to take you to see Jumanji you can wait until the movie comes out for streaming services and rentals.