If there’s one person you’re going to hand the keys of a family film classic over to with high hopes, it’s in the waffle-iron sized palms of Dwayne Johnson. Among the squillion films that business planning adonis is churning out, was a Jumanji reboot that assures you as soon as the drums start pounding that its aim isn’t to besmirch Robin Williams first roll of the dice, but simply start a new game. The difference here, that the added laugh factors of both Jack Black and Kevin Hart should already suggest, is that they’re leaning further away from the thrilling adventure element and more towards the laughs that the original was lacking.
In an effort to widen the distance between this game piece and its predecessor, Welcome to the Jungle sees four characters sucked into the game, instead of elements of it come spewing out on every turn. After four high school students who have very little in common find Jumanji in a newly adapted computer game format, they stupidly give it a whirl and find themselves in a body swap scenario and trapped in the mystical land. The nerd takes on the form of Johnson’s adventurous hero; the jock as hero’s sidekick (no change for Kevin Hart, there); the basket case as ass-kicking Karen Gillan, and the princess as Jack Black.
This route alone makes for a compelling reimagining of the beloved property and provides an interesting take on video games that even some earlier films based on thumb-destroying titles failed to do. Part-Breakfast Club part-Big (which might explain a strange cameo near the final act) these elements gel together well, mostly thanks to 50% of the team that are along for the ride.
In between the stampedes and wild encounters with Jumanji locals, Jack Black is easily this versions MVP. As soon as he touches down, gets torn apart, and then touches down again, he encompasses the Freaky Friday-like situation he’s in and sells it. From marvelling at The Rock’s intense smoulder to a toilet break that requires a walkthrough guide (given the new equipment his character has received) he’s comedy gold and hasn’t been this good since School of Rock. Backing him up is Karen Gillan as a henchman disposing heroine who’s uncomfortable in her own body. Seeing her being taught by Black on how to flirt with guys is all kinds of odd but hilarious all the same. They’re the stand out players in the game, whilst the remaining squad are trailing behind.
Their earlier team-up, Central Intelligence, proved that neither could play against type when required and the same issue arises here. Besides a hilarious kissing scene that’s more physical comedy, Johnson can’t conjure his inner weakling and fails to make you believe there’s a high school nerd trapped in this action titans body.
As for the last member of the team, just like his bigger bud he gets by on charm alone to make you forget that he’s supposed to be playing the high school jock showing more Hart on his sleeve than there should be. Just as before though, even by throwing their task list out the window, both win the crowd simply by showing up. Just like the film they’re running around in, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn’t trying to be something it’s not, it gets by on its merit, flaws and all, and plays its own game just as well.