Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

  • Dir: Jake Kasdan
  • Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Nick Jonas.
  • 12A cert, 119 mins.
  • ★★

It seems as though the world of film and television is living in a nostalgic era of late. With Stranger Things paying homage to the 80’s in its Goonies-esque manner and Paul Feig’s team of female-led Ghostbusters, film has tossed up many new ways to test our perception whilst giving us countless ways to revisit the old. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle sets itself up for what could have been a seamless blend of both nostalgia and present-day – and fails.

This long-awaited sequel to Jumanji, in which a herd of African animals – and Robin Williams – come charging out of a magical, jungle-themed board game and into the real world, is a modern stab in the dark at a 1995 family classic.

But that was the 90’s. “Who plays board games?” sneers a teenager in the film’s suggestive yet obvious opening sequence. A comment which prompts the childhood-challenging, original Jumanji board to shape-shift into a video game, later to be discovered by four detention compelled teens in the present. Clenching one controller each, they jump in to the world of Jumanji, where a threatening five-level quest stands between them and escape to the real world.

In stereotypical body-swap comedy style fashion, video-game nerd Spencer becomes the hard-wearing heartthrob (Dwayne Johnson), whilst the aptly nicknamed burly footballer, ‘Fridge’, finds himself half-sized as Spencer’s sidekick (Kevin Hart). Introvert Martha becomes a roundhouse kicking badass (Karen Gillan) and selfie consumed Bethany becomes, erm, Jack Black. As casting for franchise remakes go, where the original Jumanji presents you with the loveable Robin Williams, Welcome to the Jungle doesn’t quite offer up the same affirmation with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black embodied by a teenage girl.

Welcome to the Jungle takes a few cliché cracks at some beneath-the-surface sensitive subject matter but it doesn’t come close to the emotional impact that results from its predecessor. Any ‘to be taken seriously’ moments are lost amongst director Jake Kasdan’s need for easy laugh comedy. Within seconds of appearing on screen, Jack Black is engulfed by a hippo before falling from the sky; one less life to his name.

A later spoof sees Jack Black’s Bethany squirm as she gets to grips with her brand new male parts, as the neighbouring Johnson and Hart offer out their best macho advice. It’s not great but it’s hard not to give a little immature grin.

Visually, the Hawaiian locations provide a striking backdrop for raging motorbike chases, out-of-control helicopters and a herd of rhinoceros but the heavyweight action doesn’t quite get going.

Welcome to the Jungle is the sort of light-hearted film that parents should feel comfortable taking their young ones to see but after the failure of Jon Favreau’s related Zathura: A Space Adventure and now this, it’s hard not to think that a more acute remake of Jumanji is still out there for the taking.