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Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle - DVD Review

Jumanji

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

AS reboots or belated sequels go, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle is a surprisingly enjoyable romp that the whole family can enjoy.

Much of this is down to star charisma, with the likes of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan working overtime to make the material funny. Indeed, their collective camaraderie does much to paper over the cracks of a story and plot that quite often feels like movie making by numbers.

A ‘continuation’ of sorts, Welcome To The Jungle starts out in 1995, as the Jumanji board game from the original Robin Williams film mutates into a video console and sucks an unsuspecting Brantford teen into its world.

Years later, a Breakfast Club-style bunch of college teens – led by nerdy Spencer (Alex Wolff) and including popular jock Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Instagram-addicted Bethany (Madison Iseman) and intelligent introvert Martha (Morgan Turner) – find themselves thrown together for detention and drawn into the basement of their school, whereby they also stumble across the Jumanji console.

No sooner have they booted the console up and chosen their gaming avatars, then they are thrust into the jungle domain of the game itself, where they quickly become the characters they have chosen. Hence, Wolff’s nerd becomes Dwayne Johnson’s bulked-up archaeologist/explorer Dr Smolder Bravestone, Fridge turns into Kevin Hart’s wise-cracking zoologist-cum-weapons-valet Franklin ‘Moose’ Finbar, Martha acquires dance-fighting skills as Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Bethany transforms into Jack Black’s cartographer Dr ‘Shelly’ Oberon [to her obvious dismay].

Once they have established the rules of the game (including the fact they each only have three lives), the quartet must cast their differences aside in order to save Jumanji from an evil opponent (Bobby Cannavale) and make their way back into the present day before time runs away from them.

Directed by Jake Kasdan with wit and verve, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle benefits from the decision to invert the original premise and not become a mere retread of the popular original. As a result, it draws more on the likes of Indiana Jones, Kong: Skull Island and even The Wizard of Oz for its visual and thematic inspiration, rather than Joe Johnston’s suburbia set predecessor.

Admittedly, the actual machinations of the plot and puzzle solving are pretty flimsy, with character arcs wholly predictable and actual real peril in short supply [thanks to the numerous lives each possess]. But the charisma of the central players more than compensates for the shortcomings of the narrative, while Kasdan’s direction is fleet-footed enough to maintain both the comic interplay and the wham-bam nature of the increasingly flashy set pieces.

Johnson is as engaging as ever as Dr Bravestone, embracing his inner nerd while also laying down the muscle whenever the story allows; Hart is less motor-mouthed than usual and actually highly amusing, while Gillan deftly blends social awkwardness with kick-ass Tomb Raider sass. But it’s Black who really steals the show, tapping into the emotional highs and lows of an image-obsessed teenage girl with relish.

And while the story itself doesn’t really engage beyond the characters, Kasdan does manage to make some salient points about gender and coming-of-age, especially in a social media obsessed culture. Indeed, it’s in its asides that the movie finds itself with most to say.

As blockbuster family entertainment goes, Jumanji therefore emerges as something of a free-spirited surprise. It’s far more enjoyable than anyone dared imagine it could be.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 1hr 59mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: April 30, 2018

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