More noise than signal

Jumanji

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Sometimes I do fall into a trap of just assuming a film will turn out to be garbage and ignoring it from a very limited number of data points. Such as “Jumanji reboot / sequel / reimagining / whatever” and “Jack Black”. But, sometimes you just have to give the unexpected a chance, such as would be afforded, for instance, if The Greatest Showman had sold out, and not much else being out at the time. But sometimes, you just have to open your mind, and, yes, your heart, to find the greatest gift of them all – a watchable Jack Black performance. Blessed times.

This Jumanji, subtitled Welcome to the Jungle, presents a presumably updated setup from the Robin Williams vehicle of 1995, although having somehow contrived not to have seen that, I can’t really comment. A group of high school kids are given a menial task of clearing out an old room as a detention punishment, only to uncover a mysterious old video game system. Hooking it up in the absence of anything more interesting to be doing, they are surprised to find themselves transported inside the game, inhabiting personas very different from their real life counterparts.

Spencer Gilpin, an awkward, studious type, becomes The Rock’s Doctor Smolder Bravestone, who is, well, as you’d expect someone The Rock plays to be. Athletic football player Anthony “Fridge” Johnson, and somewhat estranged friend of Spencer is reduced to being his sidekick and weapons valet, diminutive zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar, played by Kevin Hart. Martha Kaply, also the more studious type, but rather more spikey and standoffish, becomes Karen Gillan’s Ruby Roundhouse, a commando, martial artist, and dance fighter. Rounding out the squad is the popular, we’re told pretty, but self-obsessed Bethany Walker, who becomes Jack Black’s Jack Blackish Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon, a cartographer, cryptographer, archaeologist and paleontologist. All the ologies and graphers, really.

So, after a period of adjustment and trying to get into character, they’re informed by NPC Nigel, Rhys Darby, that they must return a stone of power, the “Jaguar’s Eye” to the statue from whence it was stolen – which will presumably complete the game and allow them to return home. Unfortunately, they’ll be chased and hindered by said thief, Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), Bravestone’s nemesis, who wants to use the stone to control all of the animals of Jumanji and profit, somehow, presumably.

Which is hardly the greatest scenario building the world’s ever seen, but perfectly serviceable for a bunch of action scenes, peppered with quips and occasional moments of character development and fish out of water behaviour that you’d expect from this sort of thing. And, wouldn’t you know it, it’s an entertaining enough watch. The casts, both young and old, play off each other well enough, and this is the sort of thing The Rock can charisma through in his sleep. The surprise actually comes from Jack Black, who I don’t actively dislike, but wouldn’t go out of my way to watch, who wrings an awful lot out of what would seem like a one-note joke. Well played, you sly dog.

And so it goes, with solid action and a few clever gags relating to video game mechanics, proving to be a very entertaining ninety minutes or so. Unfortunately, the film’s two hours long, and by the end of that time has probably outstayed its welcome, but not by too much, and I doubt many will come away from this film feeling it was a complete waste of money, unless you were expecting to seen an Ingmar Bergman revival and wandered into the wrong cinema.

On the other hand, I doubt anyone will come away from this film reliving the squad’s adventures in their mind’s eye, eagerly awaiting the home release. Nope, enjoyable as this was, I’m fairly sure it’s fate will be to be fade pretty quickly, to be stumbled across down the line on Netflix, at which point you’ll have forgotten everything about it, and can watch it again as if from scratch. So, in many ways, great value!

This has all been a bit back-hand complimenty, but Jumanji presents a perfectly valid slice of throwaway entertainment, and is worth a look on that basis. Three and a Half Whatevers out of Five.