‘Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle’ Review


Our Rating

African Drums8

The board-game from hell returns, just in time for Christmas…

Four high-school teenagers in detention discover an old video games console, and decide to have a play of the ‘Jumanji‘ console currently loaded. Instantly transported to a jungle loaded with danger, not-to-mention different bodies, the four soon realise they must put aside their differences if they are going to make it home alive…

It’s fair to say that this one comes with quite a bit of baggage. Originally announced a couple of years ago, seemingly as a vehicle for Dwayne Johnson’s continued march to inevitable world domination, the prospect of a new ‘Jumanji‘ movie was greeted with a less-than-positive reaction by many. At first believed to be a remake, this was deemed sacrilegious by fans of the original, particularly with the death of that movies star, Robin Williams, still recent in the memory. Unmoved by such concerns, the studio, in this case Sony, forged ahead, and announced further casting in Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan, all of whom would join Johnson as the main characters (sort-of). These announcements, coupled with a continuing sense of vagueness about just what this film was going to be, did nothing to calm the fury of the keyboard warriors who seemed to determined to scupper the whole project before it even got going. Then, in an effort to generate some sort of positive buzz, Sony released the first official image of the main cast in costume, and if anything, that just made things worse. Particular attention was paid to the outfit that Gillan was wearing, consisting of very short shorts and a crop top, with the internet howling its outrage at such a revealing outfit, particularly in comparison to what her male co-stars were wearing. Respect then to Gillan herself, who responded to the criticism by stating that the outfit would make perfect sense once people saw the finished movie, an approach which, amazingly in these troubled times of manufactured outrage, seemed to work. This, alongside a final confirmation that the movie was a sequel to the original, seemed to calm things down significantly, meaning that upon its release in cinemas, the only thing people cared about was whether or not it was any good. Well, I hear you cry, is it? Let’s find out…

In a strange way we pick up where the 1995 original left off, with the board game being discovered half-buried on a sandy beach in 1996, although you’d struggle to claim it was the same beach. A man out for a walk discovers said game and promptly decides to take it home for his technology-obsessed teenage son. Why he feels a young man who seems to live in a PlayStation (significant?) would appreciate a game that looks like it was carved out of a single tree sometime in the 1800’s is anybody’s guess (the son in question also wonders this aloud), but the plot must be moved on one way or another. How the ancient board game goes from being counters and dice to a modern (for 1996) video game cartridge is a neat little twist, and one I won’t spoil, but it does imply that the game itself is possessed of some sort of diabolical intelligence. Anyway, after a tragedy involving the newly born Jumanji video game, we fast-forward to 2016 where we encounter the high-school kids who will become our new heroes: nerdy Spencer (Alex Wolff), jock Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), popular airhead Bethany (Madison Iseman) and outsider Martha (Morgan Turner). Via a series of rule infractions, the sort that only seem to happen in American high-schools, the four end up in detention, where a half-arsed attempt to clean out a store-room results in the discovery of an old video games console (not a recognisable one, for all sorts of licensing reasons, no doubt) containing the Jumanji cartridge. The group decide to have a go, so plug it into a handy TV, select their characters… and promptly get sucked into a jungle teeming with deadly animals, fearsome hunters and, most terrifyingly of all, a Jonas brother. Oh yes, they’re also now in brand new bodies:

  • Spencer is now Dr Smolder Bravestone, archaeologist and explorer, played by Dwayne Johnson
  • Fridge is Franklin “Mouse” Finbar, zoologist and weapons valet for Bravestone, played by Kevin Hart
  • Martha is Ruby Roundhouse, a martial arts expert and “killer of men”, played by Karen Gillan
  • Bethany is Prof Sheldon “Shelley” Oberon, cartographer, cryptographer, archaeologist and palaeontologist, played by Jack Black

Thanks to Spencer’s video game knowledge, and with some help from an NPC called “Nigel” (Rhys Darby coming across as a mixture of Indiana Jones and Alfred Pennyworth), the group realise where they are and what they need to do to get out alive. At which point it’s up to the game to throw all manner of beasties at them, some CGI, some very human, in order to slow them down.

To say anymore at this point would probably detract from the sheer enjoyment of watching what is a hugely enjoyable movie, because that’s whatJumanji: WTTJ is, a big, silly, puts-a-smile-on-your-face blockbuster, and an unrepentant one at that. For a start it looks fantastic, with the location work proving that no-one can build a movie set like Mother Nature. At the same time, the specially created locations, such as the Bazaar that features in the big mid-film set-piece, are perfectly created, feeling genuine enough for you to believe they’re real, while at the same time feeling just slightly off, reminding you that this is a video game after all (witness an aircraft hangar filled with incredibly convenient vehicles). In fact, the mid-90’s video game setting is beautifully realised, from the straightforward, if slightly limited, quest the characters must complete to escape, to the NPC’s that litter the game world, to the over-the-top villain and his dumb henchmen.

This also explains the costume choice for Gillan’s character, as it’s fair to say that is how most female characters dressed in video games back then (be thankful it wasn’t an 80’s game, otherwise she would’ve been practically naked). As Martha herself comments, upon the realisation that she is in a video game, her outfit is completely impractical for jungle exploration, while her male colleagues are for more suitably attired. Luckily for Martha, the fact that her character is a complete badass more than compensates, while the other characters also utilise a range of strengths and areas of expertise to progress through the game, such as a deep knowledge of the wildlife they encounter (Fridge/Finbar), map-reading expertise (Bethany/Oberon) and the ability to “smoulder” (Spencer/Bravestone), not hugely necessary but very funny. Needless to say, they also have significant weaknesses (except Bravestone, such an alpha-male that he has none) which cause problems throughout, and is best demonstrated by Finbar’s issues with cake, which has to be seen to be fully appreciated.

It should also be noted at this point that those angry about the idea of remaking a ‘classic’ really have nothing to worry about. Ignoring the fact that opinion is divided about the ‘classic’ status of the original movie (ground-breaking in its use of CGI certainly, but I’m not convinced it qualifies as a classic), an argument which mainly seems based on the fact that the late Robin Williams was in it, from the opening scene this is clearly a sequel, and there are other nods to the first film as well (a mention of Alan Parrish, a villain called Van Pelt). Although it’s never explained how the game makes its way back to the US (at the end of the first movie it’s implied to be on a beach in France, presumably in 1969), frankly who cares? After all, this is a board game that could feasibly destroy the whole world if left unchecked. A quick jaunt across the Atlantic is presumably childs-play for such a diabolical mind…

For movies of this nature casting is often key, and thankfully ‘Jumanji: WTTJ‘ scores highly in this department. At this point in his career Dwayne Johnson can play this sort of role in his sleep, and is clearly having a ball as Bravestone, the sort of man for whom the phrase “men want to be him, women want to be with him” could’ve been written. Indeed, so manly is Bravestone, that it’s easy to forget that he’s actually an awkward, geeky teenager at heart, so praise-be for Johnson’s comedy chops, which provide numerous reminders of this fact (witness his attempt to ‘kiss’ a girl). Although he can dominate the screen, mainly thanks to his sheer size, Johnson is ably supported by his fellow game-players, making this much more of an ensemble piece than you might at first imagine. Everyone gets several moments to shine, and all opportunities are seized upon, doubly impressive when you consider that the main cast members are all essentially playing two people. Fridge/Finbar struggles to deal with the fact that he is no longer the big, strong hero-type he usually embodies on the football field, not-to-mention the fact that role is now filled by a man normally half his size, all the while chucking out reams of information about the animals they encounter.

Elsewhere Bethany/Shelley has trouble coming-to-terms with that fact that she is now an overweight, bearded professor who is handy at reading maps but has all the stamina and endurance of an asthmatic sloth, while Martha/Ruby tries hard to reconcile the fact that she is a high-kicking martial arts expert who men fear with the fact that she is also a socially awkward outsider who is mortally embarrassed by her outfit. Just like Johnson, Hart, Black and Gillan are all great fun, with Hart and Johnson in particular showing that they have serious comedic chemistry (producers take note), while Gillan shows why she is regarded as one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars with a turn that emphasises her dramatic and comedic skills over her looks, and Black can add ‘self-obsessed teenage girl’ to his impressive repertoire of characters. Amongst the supporting cast Nick Jonas is decent in a role that must remain secret for now (it’s a bit of a spoiler), while Bobby Cannavale enjoys himself as the updated Van Pelt, as completely over-the-top and hissable as a video games baddie should be. A special mention should also go to director Jake (son of Lawrence) Kasdan, who keeps things moving along at a nice pace, never allowing the action to sag or become bogged down in too much long-winded exposition.

There are many who have dismissed the idea of this film, for whatever reason. And while I’m all for people sticking to their principles (within reason), on this occasion I would say it would be a big mistake. ‘Jumanji: WTTJ‘ is the perfect family film for the Christmas period, or any holiday really. There’s plenty to enjoy for all age groups (although it may be a touch scary for very young children), with plenty of humour, excitement and thrills to make the runtime whizz by, and it’s a great showcase for some of Hollywood’s biggest names, all of whom appear to be having an absolute blast. At the same time the plot itself is nice and straightforward and, beyond a message that working together is the best way to solve problems, is not too preachy or moralising. Do yourself a favour and catch it before someone completes the game, and everything resets…


About author


Long-time fan of all things geek-related. Comics, sci-fi, fantasy, horror, Warhammer, video games, mythology, you name it, I probably like it. This also extends to pro-wrestling and heavy metal, hence the name. Particular loves would be the Star Wars sage, Game of Thrones (books and TV), Judge Dredd, Assassins Creed, and many more. Born and raised in Essex by parents who have broadly supported these passions over the years, so much so that they now share many of them.