Jumanji might, in places, be as cheesy as week old milk left out in the sun, but it’s got a surprising amount of heart, humour and excitement.
Having seen the original, but not being an avid fan, I went into Jumanji unsure of what to expect. We quickly learn that the game adapts its state to lure players into the game. (This might have been a part of the original? I don’t remember, it’s been a while.) In this era, it becomes a video game because you know, that’s what the kids are into. It’s 1996 and we see it take an unsuspecting, curious teenager and drag him into Jumanji, leaving his parents with nothing.
Jump forward to the modern day and we’re treated to a stereotypical but still enjoyable enough high-school drama. The jock and the geek that used to be best friends, the pretty, self-obsessed popular girl and the intelligent, emotionally closed off student who’s too worried about the future. It’s full of cliches but it doesn’t stand around long enough for you to get annoyed by them.
While in a tedious detention, they find the now video game version of Jumanji. Spencer, our nerd, is surprised he’s never heard of it and is curious to try it out. Fridge, our jock, and Bethany, our popular girl, are more than willing to take a break from their menial task and Martha, our studious girl, backs down to peer pressure to play as well.
They each select an avatar to play while commenting ‘I don’t think it really matters’. Oh, how wrong they are.
It might be cliche body-swap; Spencer becomes The Rock, Fridge becomes sort and weak (Kevin Heart) and Bethany becomes… Well, Jack Black, but the humour is genuinely funny enough that it doesn’t feel stale. The acting too, is really strong. The emotional beats go exactly where you expect them to go but Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black and Kevin Heart are all strong as teenagers trapped in very different bodies to their own. A lot of Jumanji isn’t subtle, but all four of them bring a suitableness to performance that you perhaps wouldn’t expect. They have evidently spent a lot of time working on mimicking the facial expressions of their ‘reality’ counterparts. Karen Gillan especially nails this, bringing detail to her expressions without it feeling forced or unnatural. Jack Black, who can sometimes come across as irritating, does a hilarious job of playing a teenage girl. It can be quite caricatured and over the top but there’s a couple of really funny scenes, one where he (she) teaches Karen Gillian how to flirt and the other where he(she) discovers the… well anatomy of the man.
They quickly learn the rules of the game, and guided by Spencer’s video game knowledge, they move through the treacherous Jumanji. In another film, the obstacles they face might feel like obstacles for obstacles sake. However, Jumanji is set in a video game, and anyone that’s played a video game knows how the enemy is constantly catching up to you everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. So it doesn’t becoming irritating when they’re constantly up against it for no other reason than to make it exciting.
It jumps from jokes to action sequence and back to jokes again, it doesn’t give you time to be bored and for the most part it’s well balanced. No joke or action set piece out stays it’s welcome. It is, inevitable, a exploration of these teenagers finding self-worth or reevaluating their world views. There aren’t any surprises here but it does offer up some touching character moments. Although, some of these could do with more development and depth to really land as well as they could have and as mentioned it can pretty cheesy out their in Jumanji.
Jumanji could do with a little more mystery to really keep us on the edge of our seats. Especially surrounding one character who comes into play half way through the second act. It really feels like a missed opportunity for some suspense and emotion but his identity is given away pretty quickly, and that’s if you haven’t figured out who he is within five seconds of meeting him.
I genuinely had a good time with this film, it knows what it is, and what it wants to be and it achieves it. It doesn’t take itself seriously and for the most part, it owns it. Perhaps there’s not enough depth in places, too many cliches, a bit of ropy CGI and some extra cheese for good measure, but there’s also a lot of laughs, enough heart to keep us caring about the characters and it offers up at least one slight surprise towards the end of the film.
By no means groundbreaking, Jumanji isn’t going to change your life but you might just have a good time and several laughs, and sometimes that’s all you need.