Few of us remember watching 1995’s Jumanji and thinking it was a film that needed a sequel. Considered to be one of the many classic films that the late Robin Williams blessed audiences with in the 1990’s, it possessed a certain charm that only a 90’s film could have with its mix of practical and special effects. This movie was meant to be its own fantasy world, but sadly it is no longer alone. Over 20 years later, we now have Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and we’d rather we didn’t.
The original film, which was based on a children’s book from 1981, revolved around a board game with a magical twist. This movie takes place in 2017 so naturally the board game has been changed to a video game. Instead of the magic of the game escaping into the real world and our heroes being forced to play the game to save their world, this sequel does the exact opposite. The film starts with four very different high school students who are all given detention for silly high school reasons. Their punishment given to them by their principal turns out to be cleaning up the basement of the school. It sounds like The Breakfast Club so far, right?
While cleaning the basement, the kids find an old dusty video game console with a game cartridge in it labeled “Jumanji”. They each pick a character to play as, which becomes a purely superficial decision once they figure out what these people actually look like. The shy nerdy boy becomes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the tall athletic boy becomes Kevin Hart, the shy intelligent girl becomes the beautiful and badass Karen Gillian and the queen of selfies and Instagram girl becomes Jack Black. You could say that the kids learn life lessons from walking a mile in the shoes of their polar opposites but that’s about the extent of enlightenment in this movie.
The cast allows for a glimmer of hope that, at the least, it might survive to be a mindless but enjoyable action comedy. Kevin Hart and The Rock have fantastic chemistry and I’ve grown up on Jack Black’s comedy. The biggest disappointment for me was that there were so many jokes and none if them landed. None of these actor’s performances grabbed my attention and made me want to know more about them. Bobby Cannavale gives a bland performance as the story’s main villain and the only intriguing character was Nick Jonas who played someone who became stranded in the game years ago and became trapped by his own fear. This was the only real callback or mention to the original film or William’s character.
The idea behind the first film, a man stuck inside the game for 26 years and having to experience the real world again in order to stop the game from taking over the Earth, is an idea that has many possible outcomes and subplots. It’s a classic “fish out of water” story and Williams played that role beautifully. He made the audience care about his character and remember him two decades later and beyond. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has the plot of a sub-par video game and has four characters that I have already forgotten about since seeing the movie last night.
Visually, the sequel looks like the most gorgeous video game ever and the effects are as realistic as every other film today. That’s great, but a nice-looking movie isn’t a good movie. Jumanji focused on story, character development, and a strong sense of imagination while Welcome to the Jungle focused more on gags, clichéd moments, and visual effects. With the 2010’s slowly coming to an end and with more classic film properties being revisited, the same question continues to cross my mind: does (insert beloved 1990’s movie here) really need a sequel or a reboot?