Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle has a few clever ideas but could dig deeper

Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black have fun in a 21st century upgrade of the blockbuster

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (Jake Kasdan). 119 minutes. Opens Friday (December 20). See listing. Rating: NNN

To answer the burning question, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle does indeed feature that Guns N’ Roses track, because this whole movie is about giving people what they think they want. And given how much whining The Last Jedi has engendered over certain dramatic choices, maybe that’s all it takes.

Welcome To The Jungle forces a 21st century upgrade on Joe Johnston’s 1995 fantasy adventure, literally changing the supernatural board game into a vintage video game cartridge for another round of life-or-death, full-immersion play. The rules remain the same: follow the enigmatic rhyming clues, finish the game and go home. Otherwise, you’re trapped in a living nightmare forever. Funsies!

This time around, four present-day high schoolers press Start and end up sucked into the game, trapped in the bodies of their avatars – realized by Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black, all of whom have a great deal of fun playing against their own physicality and personas.

It’s one of several clever new ideas that make the concept feel refreshed, though you wish Jake Kasdan and his writers – including Community’s Chris McKenna – had pushed themselves to come up with a few more. For instance: it’s weird that the movie’s self-aware enough to make jokes about cut scenes and supporting characters that can’t move beyond their proscribed purpose, but there’s nothing about graphics or gameplay.

Johnson and Hart reprise their goofy chemistry from Central Intelligence, Gillan and Black have a lot of fun playing teenage girls who are understandably conflicted about their new bodies, and Bobby Cannavale goes all in on the bad guy, an evil archaeologist who has a lot more agency than his (intentionally) generic sidekicks.

There are a couple of really solid laughs, and Kasdan finds a way to soften the most sadistic aspects of the concept that hung over Johnston’s original – though he doesn’t dig any deeper into the nature of the game than Johnston did.

Maybe someone will go there in the third movie, where I guess it’ll be an evil iPhone app or something. Whatever. As long as those drums are beating, people will be happy.


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