Released 26th December
Seen 27th December
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner
Produced by Matt Tolmach Productions, Radar Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions, Sony Pictures Entertainment
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black & Karen Gillan
What could be more worrying than going to see a sequel to a film that starred Robin Williams? Everyone who heard that this film was coming had the same thought “Oh god, are they actually doing a sequel to one of the most fun 90’s movies that starred Robin Williams? Why? This is going to suck”. That was certainly my thought when I went into this, I recall loving the original. It was a fun adventure action film that had some effective dramatic moments and a great performance by every one of it’s incredible cast members so doing a sequel 20 years on without Robin Williams around is going to be a problem. I was sure I was going to be seething throughout this film but instead, I was cackling with joyful laughter because oh my god they got this so right.
Taking an idea from the animated series, this movie finds 4 kids playing a video game called Jumanji (Which is the actual board game that transformed itself into a video game, this is the opening scene and it explains that alteration brilliantly in one shot) and once they start it up they get sucked into the game itself and in order to get home, they have to win the game together. A lot of what made the original films plot work is in this, the slow advancement towards the high point of the game, challenges getting harder, amazing action setpieces, everything that the original had is updated and put into this movie and oh my god it works so well.
Little touches like the movie opening with the final shot of Jumanji in 1995 or the repeated drums at the start of each setpiece build the world beautifully and allow us to experience the world that we only heard about when Allan Parrish told us about it in passing. Because make no mistake, this is the world Alan Parrish was stuck in during the original movie and they make that very clear with a nice little nod to the star of the original film that is worked in at just the right moment. There’s also another great tribute that I won’t spoil but I will say, go watch the original again and remember what token Robin’s character picks for the game. I also love that this movie took the idea of this being a video game and ran with it by making some characters NPC’s who have a set amount of lines of dialogue and will repeat that every time you run into them. It’s a joke that could get old but it’s used sparingly and used well by the performers.
My god is this a film that leans on the charm of its central cast, understandable when you have a cast this good. Dwayne Johnson playing a nerd who just magically got the body of Dwayne Johnson is kind of awesome, the moment when he realises he has a bicep is a piece of physical comedy perfection that works because Dwayne Johnson has more charm than anyone else so when he acts like a dorky teenager in a giant body, it works. Kevin Hart basically lets loose and played a pretty damn hilarious character who was about 6 and a half foot in the real world, but is now Kevin Hart height and it works. His ability to call out the insanity of the moment get’s some of the biggest laughs, just seeing how much he is over everything going on. Karen Gillan kinda got less to work with, getting an awkward shy girl and little else but it’s a testament to Karen as a comedic actress that she made gold out of that. The scene where she learns how to flirt is hilarious and when she kicks some ass she makes it look effortless and sells every scene she’s in. Even side characters like Nick Jonas’ appearance as a 5th player or Bobby Cannavale as Van Pelt (Yes, that’s the villain from the original) are just delightful and really bring an extra kick to several scenes. The highlight of the entire film is Jack Black who is playing basically a valley girl throughout the film and it’s incredible, from whining about his phone to giving mouth to mouth with another character in possibly the only instance of “Coded Heterosexuality” I’ve ever seen in a film, it’s incredible.
Some scenes are a little bit off. There’s an entire scene where Jack Black’s character has to be taught how to go to the bathroom while having a penis. Those jokes kinda feel like they were done in an earlier draft, as were a few other truly odd jokes about a girl being in awe of having a penis. You can kinda tell this was written by 4 dudes who thought it was funny to have an awkward sexy dance scene but forgot that things have changed since those jokes were considered funny. Now it’s just kinda hokey and done to death, Rob Schneider did those jokes back in Hot Chick. If Schneider did the joke, the joke is dead because he killed it.
In general, the film is insanely fun, a good solid laugh ride with some charming leads who work wonders with what they have. Even the stuff that doesn’t quite work can still get a little chuckle just from the performances and the incredible set pieces. I expected this to be a total dud of a film, turns out it was pretty damn awesome