(Dir: Jake Kasdan, 2017)
Did anyone actually think we needed another Jumanji movie? Well, when it proves to be as much fun as Welcome to the Jungle, it turns out that answer is yes. Updating the concept for today's modern world – computer game over board game – makes logical sense, with the film essentially functioning as a second part where you need to know absolutely nothing about the original 1995 film. The jungle-based world of Jumanji we're thrown into provides plenty of entertaining thrills and decent set pieces, never standing still for too long, whilst the many little computer game references / quirks of the world are a neat touch that give the film a lot of personality. It's long been said how rare it is to come across a decent filmic adaptation of a computer game – it's those films that play out as if they are computer games that prove most creatively successful (such as Scott Pilgrim vs the World and eXistenZ), and this is no exception.
However the primary reasons Welcome to the Jungle works as well as it does is down to the script and cast. It's genuinely laugh out loud funny most of the way through and is just sharply written, seemingly with these actors in mind. It starts with the kids who effectively embody the high school clichés we've come to expect – geeks, football star, hot popular girl – before flipping expectations by turning them into their opposites within the game. Thus awkward geeks Spencer and Martha become an intrepid adventurer / man mountain (Alex Wolff / Dwayne Johnson) and kick-ass hottie (Morgan Turner / Karen Gillan). Whilst quarterback Fridge becomes small, scared and slow (Ser'Darius Blain / Kevin Hart) and phone addicted popular girl Bethany is superbly switched into a palaeontologist (Madison Iseman / Jack Black). They keep their teenage character traits as they learn to embrace a better facet of their personalities via these avatars. It's a family film so there's the inevitable positive message here.
Johnson is as enjoyable as ever as he works up the courage to be brave, Gillan plays awkward attractiveness well, Hart seemingly does this outraged schtick in his sleep, but the most fun is had watching Black fully embrace playing a teenage girl trapped in a schlubby mans body whilst lost in an environment totally alien to her. He fully divorces himself from his usual annoying brand of comedy to be the highlight and provides some of the funniest moments. The important thing is that you care about these characters and how they develop. Whilst Bobby Cannavale does a decent enough job providing threat as Van Pelt, in an effectively myopic villainous role.
There's nothing especially unique about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, but it fully embraces it's concept with two goals in mind – be very funny whilst being thrillingly entertaining. And it totally delivers on both fronts. Completely unexpectedly this turned out to be some of the most fun to be had in the cinema last year.