Preconceptions can sometimes make or break a film. It’s very easy to dismiss a reboot before even the title card has flashed on screen, and Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle has been particularly unlucky in that respect seeing as the loss of the origin film’s star, Robin Williams, is still raw three and a half years later.
The film has certainly had its share of cyber venom but, remarkably, it’s still managed to tumble into the jungle with a positive outlook and a fresh attitude, while capturing the fun that made the original.
Beginning at a high school in suburbia, we’re introduced to the new players, a regular band of detention misfits made up of video game nerd Spencer, huge jock Fridge, shy but academic Martha and shallow popular girl Bethany. They are basically the Breakfast Club, bar John Bender. The twist (the one that we all already knew about, at least) comes when we discover that the old wooden board game that ate Alan Parrish in 1969 has transformed into a video game cartridge. The other twist (again, already knew about it) is that instead of the jungle coming out of the game, the players and indeed the audience go into the jungle.
Each teenager is given an new alter ego: Spencer in the body of weakness-free explorer Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge as tiny zoologist and sidekick Franklin ‘Mouse’ Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha as killer of men and ‘dance fighting’ expert Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Bethany as ‘curvy’ scholar and cartographer Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black). It’s a classic body switch movie, with each avatar’s body and field of expertise the polar opposite of each teenager, but it really works.
The humour rapidly meanders from clever to silly, but even the dick jokes (of which there are several) are good enough to make you crack your face. The script is tight and fast-paced and the film really benefits from the new setting, but really it’s the cast that brings the magic back. Though we may have had slight reservations about revisiting Jumanji in the past, we’re glad someone did. It’s not groundbreaking; it’s just bloody good fun.