Plot: A group of high school students find themselves in detention and rather than pull staples from old magazines, they decide to dust off a vintage video game system to pass the time. The four students each choose a character and prepare for an adventure, but as this game is Jumanji, they have no idea just how much of an adventure they’re about to embark on. The game pulls them into the world of Jumanji, where they become the avatars they chose and have to save the game’s world, at least if they ever want to return home again. The shy nerd becomes the action hero, the jock turns into a diminutive zoologist, the shy bookworm becomes a gorgeous ass kicker, and of course, the vapid, popular girl is now a middle aged male cartographer. The situation is beyond insane, but if they want to go back to their old lives and selves, they have no choice but to play the game and hope to survive.
Entertainment Value: I had some doubts about this one, but I feel like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is about as good of a sequel as possible, given the circumstances involved. I appreciated that the movie has some throwbacks to the original movie, but doesn’t use nostalgia as a crutch, choosing to create a new adventure that happens to be in the same world as the original. This is more character driven, with an emphasis on the strengths and weaknesses of the featured characters, as well the need for them to work together in order to succeed. This allows each one to have moments to shine and no one feels tacked on, at least not in the main cast. The movie’s reliance on video game tropes might take some adjustments for those unfamiliar with the media, but the movie does a capable job of quick explanations. The tone is brisk and the pace is fast, even a two hour duration seems to pass by in a flash, as little time is wasted and the movie has good momentum. I don’t feel like it ever reaches the manic levels of chaos as seen in the first movie, but it offers some fun, adventure set pieces in between the more character driven elements. The stakes never seem high, but that isn’t a surprise, given how this is a light, comedic picture.
I have to admit, I wasn’t enthused by the cast lineup of this one, as I am not a fan of The Rock, Kevin Hart, or most Jack Black performances, but this movie features some solid efforts. The Rock tones down his usual blandness and plays up the nerdier aspects of the role, while Kevin Hart is still just Kevin Hart, but he also reigns in his shouting and stereotypical antics, at least a little. Karen Gillan is a lot of fun as a shy girl who slowly embraces her new bad ass persona, but Jack Black steals this show and turns in one of his finest performances. He channels the vapid, teen social media persona with ease and disappears into the role. Black really nails the part here and brings a lot of the biggest laughs to the table. As expected, the CGI is rather lackluster and it does dampen some of the adventure sequences. But this is just part of popcorn blockbuster cinema and at least it isn’t as jarring as in some similar movies. In the end, this Jumanji sequel aims for brisk entertainment and nails that target, not much substance, but a fun ride and that is enough sometimes.