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Jumanji, staring Robin Williams, was one of my absolute favourite films as a child. It was just a cool idea; a board game that literally brought its trials to life. But things change as you grow older, including your taste in films. I do still really like Jumanji. The action is good, the acting is strong, particularly from Williams and Jonathan Hyde (as both the father and the hunter), the comedy is good and there are some very nice messages in there too. But it was also sloppily directed by Joe Johnston, not well written, weirdly mean-spirited for a kid’s film and features some truly awful special effects. It’s a mixed bag to say the least. It’s also something I wouldn’t put down as requiring a sequel. But here’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle anyway.
Four kids are spending time in detention when they notice an old game console. Turning the game on and selecting their characters, the kids find themselves sucked into the game. Now inside Jumanji, and in the bodies of Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan, they must complete the game to be set free. They have three lives, a world to save and a villain to beat – but what happens if they run out of lives?
It’s strange to see Jumanji gaining popularity enough to warrant a sequel this far along. I know, there was that Zathura film in 2005, but that didn’t really feel like a sequel or tie in in any way. What’s more surprising is that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (admit it, you hear Guns and Roses whenever you say that title) is actually a very strong film. I had no faith for this film – it’s a blockbuster comedy with huge stars, that’s rebooting an older, nostalgic film. It didn’t help that it was directed by Jake Kasdan. The man who gave us Bad Teacher and Sex Tape – both utter garbage. But, not only was it better than I gave it credit for, it rivals the original.
Right off the bat the directing is tighter. Joe Johnston has always bothered me with how he paces his films. He always has some scenes go too slow or has them moving to fast, and almost always stitching them together with choppy editing. Kasdan allows his film to breathe. Jumanji doesn’t exactly feel real, but it’s characters do. We get the time to understand them while moving at a pretty brisk pace. The action is a joy to watch. It’s over the top, but I found myself getting tense with the action at points. Particularly a scene involving a canyon full of rhinos.
Also like the first one, the acting is great and so is the comedy. There’s a lot of fun with role-reversal here. Dwayne Johnson is playing a nerdy, scared kid in the body of Dwayne Johnson. Karen Gillan is playing a socially awkward and self-degrading know-it-all in the body of Karen Gillan. Both of these give us some great, self-aware and self-satirising comedy. Amazingly enough, it rarely misses the mark throughout the film. Kevin Hart, though, plays it like he usually does. It is a bit of a shame, but Hart’s comedy is mostly self-aware degradation, so it works very well with the film. By far the best part of the film was Jack Black. Black plays a phone-obsessed, self-absorbed drama queen, who is now in the body of Jack Black. What makes the already golden comedy sparkle more is that Black completely sells it. All the actors sell that they are who their characters are, but Black manages to convince me that he is this teenage girl in a middle-aged man’s body.
The choices of role reversal does help get across some effective messages too. The main being that we all have only one life. Nothing new or ground-breaking, but a good message. It’s a shame that the pacing in this film is way too fast. It’s one of those films that feels like it’s over not long after it starts. This does make it a fun and easy watch, but I could have done with a little more. Maybe wishing for more isn’t much of a negative, but I feel like more could have been done. They are in a videogame, and the film has fun with this, but a part of me wished that there was more fun had. Maybe a glitch at points, or texture pops? But, maybe that’s just me. Less subjective though is the fact that the effects are still pretty bad. The jungle looks nice, but no animal in this film convinced me that it was real.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a huge surprise to me. It’s not great, being far too quick and featuring some oddly rubber looking beasts and creepy-crawlies. It’s also a little predictable at points. But that’s not why people came here. They came for a good time with the family. In that, Jumanji is a huge success. Hilarious, thrilling, well-acted and with a well told story, there’s something for everyone in this one. I don’t think my childhood will allow me to call this film better than the first one, but it’s certainly an equal. If you haven’t already, go down and see it. There are worse ways to spend your three lives.
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