The sequel may have taken 22 years to get here, but it was worth the wait.
There’s been something of a revival lately of 90’s movies. Giving a genre to this kind of film is sort of difficult, because it’s not the story that serves as the indicator of the style, but the characters, their voices, and their perspectives. You’re always going to get a sort of Breakfast Club – esque bricolage of a group of people, often kids who know way more than the “lame adults” of their world, who get transported into a surreal or crazy situation that is far from normal through which they bond, learn an important life lesson, and put their differences aside. Somewhere in that process they save the world (or something along those lines) with their unique talents and a bunch of quips that are great for kids, but rather cheesy for those who aren’t. Most importantly, the story is more often than not upbeat and features a happy, crowd pleasing ending. Steven Spielberg is sort of the godfather for these types of movies as he’s had some of the most iconic films that fit this style, such as Jurassic Park. This style of movies sort of went into a brief hibernation for most of the 2000s, but they’re back and in full swing. Just look at Jurassic World which did this marvelously, or Stranger Things, which has taken the concept even further and making it more than suitable for a more modern audience in a format that works on television. With this trend on the rise, it’s great to see one of my childhood favorites being revived and not remade in Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. Now, if you remember the original Jumanji, chances are you remember the sort of spiritual successor to that film, Zathura, which I’m sure we can all agree was a let down. However, while that wasn’t great, the latest Jumanji is an altogether enjoyable film.
Jake Kasdan has a pretty long résumé of comedic experience, from the tv hit New Girl to Bad Teacher and a number of other comedies. While neither of those are head turning filming achievements, they are pretty good for a laugh and a decent story, which is exactly how I’d describe his latest work in Jumanji. He’s worked with a number of funny men and women before, so needless to say, given the amazing cast he’s got in this film, he’s sure to pull out something that’s worth watching. While the writing often times falls into the “cringey” category, the “comedic” set-ups that sometimes aren’t, are beautifully brought to life by Kasdan who really knows how to draw humor out of a proper sketch, even if it is a tad cliché. Even with the less funny material, he does give the joke a chance to land with a younger audience. One thing that’s essential for a proper 90’s style movie is a slew of large action scenes, explosions, and incredible chases. Now, pulling off large scale coordinated action scenes with what seems to be practical effects is anything but easy, but Kasdan absolutely nails it and it makes the film incredibly fun to watch.
Now, there’s not much to say about the cast except wow. They’re all great actors by their own merit. Jack Black plays a vapid teenaged girl better than most teenaged girls. The Rock and Kevin Hart are incredibly funny together and are proving to be quite the winning duo on screen together. Karen Gillan can definitely play an insecure badass, as we’ve seen her do marvelously in Guardians of the Galaxy 2. All of the kids are great as well as with a standout in Alex Wolff who really goes beyond what is asked of him or any of his co-stars in this film. The job of an actor in a film like this is to believably bring the character to life to the extent that an audience of kids can laugh with them, or at them, and overall just bond and relate to them. Wolff goes beyond that and creates a deeper portrait of a lonely and shy teen who longs for the golden days before his best friend stopped being his best friend. That extra level of depth may go largely unappreciated, but I’ll give credit where it’s due. The only complaint about the performances throughout is that he isn’t in the film enough. Also, Nick Jonas at times is somewhat of a cardboard cutout. I would love to see a version of this film where Tom Holland didn’t drop out and did the role instead.
The real shortcoming of this film is the writing. The premise is simple, the plot is rather formulaic aside from a nice twist bringing the Rock and company into the fold, and the jokes are sometimes, as I’ve said, trite and a bit out of touch. It never really leaves you wondering or guessing as to what’s going to happen next, how they’re going to overcome the next challenge, and it definitely never adds any doubt that our heroes won’t succeed. However, that’s kind of alright. This is a movie for kids and they’re not going to care about all of that too much. As an adult, for what this movie is, I don’t care about it too much as well. It might not be anything new, but it’s a tried and true formula that works, is enjoyable, and is the reason why 90’s movies are great. Look, it’s not going to get nominated for an Oscar anytime soon, but it’s going to be an enjoyable movie to watch that everyone in the family can enjoy.
The film hits theaters December 20, 2017.