Film Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

by Sam Robinson

Rated PG. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan. Directed by Jake Kasdan.

If you’re anything like me, the 1995 film Jumanji holds a special place in your heart. Sure, it’s not quite a classic, but how awesome was it to see a dusty board game of mystery spew elephants, hunters, and Robin Williams’ excellent Alan Parrish upon unsuspecting suburbia?

If this is your feeling about Jumanji, I implore you to avoid Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle at all costs. Everything about this new film feels off. I honestly believe that the film was originally a comedy script that wasn’t strong enough to be greenlit, until some studio exec decided to attach it (so very loosely) to the Jumanji brand, most likely to appeal to now-adult viewers like me who loved the original.

Honestly, this film’s connection to Jumanji is tenuous at best. In 1996 someone discovers the original Jumanji board game on a beach, takes it home and because the teen recipient is too cool to play board games, it magically transforms into a video game cartridge. Fast forward to the present, where four high school teens discover the ancient video game system while on detention. They all start playing the game and voila – are sucked into the Jumanji video game.

Now here’s what doesn’t add up. In the game, the teens become avatars – played by Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Kevin Hart. They are aware of their true selves but assume the identities of the game’s characters. What then ensues is something completely un-Jumanji – a video game where there is no real goal to be achieved, no real threat at hand (unless you count baddies on motorbikes), and rather than an action adventure, the style is “comedy” that leans heavily on penis jokes.

What really floored me is that there is a major gender imbalance in Welcome to the Jungle. Once the teens enter the game, Karen Gillan is the only female actor – outnumbered three to one. Inexplicably, one of the teen girls who enters the game becomes an avatar played by Jack Black. For laughs, she has to learn how to live life with male anatomy, and teach Karen Gillan’s avatar how to flirt. For a film released in 2017, this is so poor. There’s even a new character added later in the game who – you guessed it – is a male.

Being a teen flick (even that is debatable), Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle pushes the coming-of-age motif of discovering who you are, and how to spend your life. It’s a challenge that we all face, and rarely grow out of. For the Christian – being a follower of Jesus becomes our key identity. Living with him as Lord sets a different trajectory for our lives, because everything we do is in response to the incredible grace he has shown us. It also means that there’s a hope that lasts beyond this world – bigger than teen experiences, longer than video games, and one we can look forward to much more than any half-baked film franchise reboot.

The Verdict: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is far from the adventure you want this to be. Instead it’s a plod through a jungle of predictable gags and disappointment, nothing like its namesake. Avoid. 2/5

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle releases in the USA on December 20th, and in Australia on December 26th.

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