REVIEW: New ‘Jumanji’ saved from a jungle of unimaginative storytelling by great cast

The Art of Nerding Out

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“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”, a sequel to the 1995 fantasy film starring the late Robin Williams, is intended to be entertaining, but plot and character arcs are so formulaic and unimaginative, that it struggles to even do that.

Thank the Maker for a great cast that really works well together.

This flick opens with four very different teens wind up serving detention together, all “Breakfast Club” style. Whilst trying to avoid doing work, they stumble across an old game console and get sucked into the video game Jumanji. The twist: the kids now occupy the bodies of the game avatars they’ve chosen: a dashing archaeologist (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a diminutive zoologist (Kevin Hart), a portly map reader (Jack Black) and a female martial arts master (Karen Gillan).

Our quartet of heroes are charged with a mission and they can’t escape the game until they complete said mission. Along the way, they duck the game’s main baddie (Bobby Cannavale) and form friendly bonds as they fight to survive long enough to win the day.

By far, the best thing about “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is the cast. Johnson is pretty good playing against type as a callow nerd in a wrestling champ’s body. Hart plays the same character he always plays, but he does have good chemistry and their interplay works. Gillan is also enjoyable, and a scene where she tries to flirt is one of the best things in the whole movie.

Then there’s Jack Black. He steals the movie as a teen-age Instagram queen trapped in the body of a pudgy middle-aged man. His concern with unimportant things, like his appearance or his digital devices, draw plenty of chuckles. He’s just straight-up brilliant and turns in his best work since “School of Rock”.

The cast is so good together, that it overcomes the other shortcomings that weight “Jumanji” down. And there are many shortcomings. The movie is exceedingly formulaic and predictable. You can see every plot point coming from a mile away. The villain is also a disappointment, with little development and a boring band of henchmen. He’s uninteresting and inconsequential and, ultimately, unmemorable.

And while the the cast is fun to watch together, the characters they’re playing undergo the most unimaginative, standard-issue arcs. When you know the relationships the characters will have before the opening credits finish, that’s a sign of poor writing and storytelling. And if the cast didn’t work so well together, it would be very easy to lose interest in these characters.

This flick also is a little lacking in memorable visuals and the musical score lacks impact.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” could easily be a waste of time. But thanks to Black, Hart, Gillan, and The Rock, it narrowly succeeds in being a fun watch.

3 Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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