In this sequel to 1995’s Jumanji, four high-school teenagers — Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Bethany (Madison Iseman) and Martha (Morgan Turner) — find themselves transported into a jungle while playing an old Jumanji video game. Once there, they morphed into their respective chosen avatars, with Spencer becoming Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge as the zoologist Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), Bethany as the chubby Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black) and Martha as the sexy Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan).
Jumanji was largely seen as a childhood favourite for most kids who grew up in the 90s. When I first saw that movie back in 1995, I was impressed with the high-concept “board game comes to life” premise and of course, Robin Williams in one of his most entertaining roles as Alan Parrish. But at the same time, I also remember fondly how the CGI animals — especially the monkeys! — looked surprisingly bad. Now, 22 years later, Jumanji has made its comeback to the big screen. But instead of a reboot, we get an unlikely sequel with a different cast and director. This begs me two questions: Why bother? Who in their right mind thinking that a new Jumanji movie is a good idea? Besides, since the late Robin Williams is no longer with us, the new Jumanji movie feels like an unnecessary sequel trying to cash in both of its brand recognition and nostalgia factor.
Taking over the director’s seat from the original’s Joe Johnston is Jake Kasdan, best known for his raunchy comedies in Bad Teacher (2011) and Sex Tape (2014). Surprisingly enough, the sequel — titled Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle — doesn’t rely heavily on nostalgia. At least Kasdan is willing to try something new and relevant for today’s generation. This time around, the board game from the original movie is appropriately shifted into a video game console. He also makes fun of the standard video game procedure such as the players’ respective strengths and weakness, numbers of life bars and solving-the-puzzle stages. In fact, the whole “suck-into-the-video-game” angle sounds promising enough to be a fun-filled adventure.
Unfortunately, Jake Kasdan fails to capitalise on its potential premise. Despite its video game-like setup, the stakes are surprisingly low and frankly, monotonous. Besides, if you play a video game before, you know that each level will grow harder as you progress further. And yet, this movie has none of them. It’s more like watching them taking a stroll in the park, have fun and call it a day. Even with the teen characters’ adult avatars saw their life bars decreasing, there’s hardly a sense of impending doom or danger whatsoever.
That leaves us the cast. If you are a fan of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart’s previous team-up in last year’s Central Intelligence, you’ll probably enjoy their decent chemistry making fun of each other. Jack Black is mildly amusing as a cryptographer whose soul is actually a narcissistic teenage girl. Karen Gillan fares better than the rest as a Lara Croft-like Ruby Roundhouse, whose skimpy outfit is meant to parody the video-game female character. She is both charming and a genuine eye candy (her bare midriff certainly steals the show). Best of all, it’s nice to see her kicking ass minus all the heavy make-up look (as seen in her Nebula character in Guardians of the Galaxy movies) for a change. Bobby Cannavale shows up as the sequel’s new villain, but his presence is nothing more than your standard-issue antagonist.
The CGI animals are a few miles better than the one we saw in the first movie. Too bad most of the action sequences feel mediocre, with the exception of the chase scene between a horde of CGI rhinos and a helicopter. The jokes don’t really hit the mark as often as they should. I mean, what’s with the fight-dancing sequence scored to Big Mountain’s “Baby, I Love Your Way”? Instead of drawing a potential laugh-out-loud moment, it ends up feeling cringey. No doubt that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle clearly deserves better than this muddled result of a sequel.