I saw the teaser trailer for the “Jumanji” sequel and thought, “WHAT?! WHY?!” But that’s the nature of teaser trailers. Just a taste to leave you wanting more. After the Internet exploded with hatred and vitriol, I did what everyone should do and READ ABOUT IT first and saw what the premise actually was and was intrigued. Knowing that, I went into the theater with an open mind and low expectations. And surprise, surprise, I LOVED IT.
The film begins almost directly after the end of the original with the board game Jumanji washed up on an unknown beach. Joggers pass as we begin to hear the trademark drums. Another jogger passes and stops, drawn to the drumming. He picks up the game and takes it home to his teenage son, Alex. Alex, adorned in his beloved metal band t-shirt, discards the game, pondering aloud, “Who still plays board games?” as he picks up his game controller and continues his video game. Later that night, green lights flash from his bedroom window, and he wakes to find the board game has transformed itself into a video game cartridge. As the audience collectively thinks, “Don’t do it!”, he puts the game in and starts it up. Another flash of green light and we all know what’s happened.
He’s sucked into the game. I guess maybe not everyone would know what happened…
Twenty years later, we’re introduced to Spencer, and Anthony aka “Fridge” who used to be best friends but are not only associating because Spencer is doing Fridge’s homework. Also we meet Bethany, the obnoxiously vain popular girl who’s sole purpose in life is to post selfies on Instagram. Lastly we meet Martha, a girl who doesn’t see the purpose in PE class unless one wants to become a (God forbid) PE teacher. Oh, and she says this TO her PE teacher. It’s a gas.
All four end up in detention and are forced to clean up a disused storage room. Inside, Fridge finds Alex’s old gaming system with a note that is was donated. He and Spender hook it up to a TV and convince the girls to play. There seems to be one player they can’t play either, which seems strange. When Spencer pushes “Start”, they are all sucked into the game and dropped directly into the jungle, but now they are their avatars or characters from the game: Spencer is Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Duane “The Rock” Johnson), Fridge is Franklin “Mouse” Funbar (Kevin Hart), Bethany is Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), and Martha is Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). And buckle in, because it just gets more fun and funnier from there on out! Johnson and Hart have amazing comedic chemistry and every exchange is heartfelt and hilarious. Black’s ability to play a teenage girl is astounding, and Gillan playing the unwilling butt-kicking hot girl is everything you’ve ever wanted from an action movie.
And that’s not even the best part. The story is actually REALLY GOOD. So many sequels can get by on nostalgia and in-jokes without really having any substance, but “Welcome to the Jungle” elevates the premise of the original film, amplifies things to an 11, and delivers a quality, immensely entertaining action film that ALSO HAPPENS to share a story with a classic film from the 90s. It also has a lovely moment from the late Robin Williams to goes to show how much the film’s creators adored “Jumanji”.
In addition to all of that (whew), it also has the layer of being a video game and the characters knowing their in a video game. So you have great stuff for A) fans of the original film, B) Fans of the cast, particularly Johnson and Hart together, C) a great action film with karate fighting and helicopters and stampeding rhinos, and D) a laugh-a-minute meta comedy about how you’d play within a game knowing you’re in a game.
Believe me; I’m the most surprised how much I loved it. But that’s the best part: you will be very pleased with this movie. I’ll admit a lot of the movies I like aren’t for everyone, but this one is. It is PG-13 and has language and violence, but if your kids can handle that, this is a great night at the movies for the whole family.
It even recently surpassed “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” at the box office, which normally I’d be personally hurt by (nerd), but bravo “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”. Enjoy the top. You’ve earned it.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Snack Packs
Lincoln L. Hayes is an actor and a producer living in Vermont. His TV show is back for the fourth season in January at www.facebook.com/VTFilmEssentials.