This was my main gripe. The biggest issue I had with this Jumanji. Not because it’s a reboot/remake (Dredd & Batman Begins were fantastic) or it was released during the Christmas period (not usually a good sign) or even that The Rock and Kevin Hart were going to carry the film (Central Intelligence wasn’t all that). The glaring red flag was trying to reboot Robin freaking Williams. Shove the genie (hehe) back in the bottle. Trap lightning again. Look, the sheer talent that Robin Williams was cannot be replicated. The man was genius at what he did. Mrs Doubtfire remains among my all-time favourite comedies and imagining someone else in the role is sacrilegious. And judging by how almost every reboot misses the point the of the original film and tries to photocopy it, I feared this would be a cringefest.
Well, it wasn’t. It was actually good.
To catch you up on the plot, here is the quick run-down. Four high schoolers find themselves on a similar detention punishment and discover an old retro video game. They turn it on, the ground shakes, drumming fills the air, get sucked in into the video game, find themselves in wildly ironic avatars and have to finish the game lest they get stuck there forever. Simple, right? Which is good. It’s a Christmas movie aimed at just about everyone on the marketing demographic with one aim – be a fun ride for the audience and have the kids shut up for roughly two hours or so. On that front, it does deliver.
The buddy cop ‘franchise viagra’ duo of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson (you have to say the whole thing – don’t ask) and Kevin Hart dominated the marketing run and for good reasons. They do deliver here and especially because they play against type. Kevin Hart (a short nerdy jungle bookworm) is Fridge, a high school football jock in real life while The Rock ( I mean, it’s The Rock – look at him) is an avatar for a scrawny nerdy kid, Spencer. Finding themselves in bodyswap situations is actually funnier than I thought it would be. That is not to say they carry the entire movie. Karen Gillian and Jack Black pull their weight too. Gillian (prototypical athletic, martial arts master and flawless adventurer) is an avatar of a reclusive teenage girl (Martha) while Black, most interesting of all, is the avatar of Bethany, a selfish selfie obsessed teenage girl. All this sounds rather confusing reading it but it does lead to a very interesting time, dodging crazy hippos, crazy jaguars and generic bad guy disposable henchmen.
Speaking of, the villain (Bobby Cannavale) isn’t one of those complex multi-layered characters that will stand the test of time and be revered by snot-nosed, monocled critics. It’s a video game villain. Beat the game and you beat the villain. Sure, he does look menacing but that was never the point of the movie [or the game]. The real magic is in the jungle that is Jumanji and especially how the characters interact. Bethany, as an overweight archaeology professor, struggling to adjust to what it’s like being a man giving pointers to Martha, a walking gaming stereotype, curiously underclothed for a jungle, on how to slay and distract some off brand guards. It creates some hilarious situations and one-liners that will catch you by surprise for sure.
All in all, it doesn’t reinvent the reboot format nor does it leave you yearning for a sequel but it does satisfy your curiosity. A hella good ride and one that isn’t filled with too much to think about. The definition of a good blockbuster and fun for the whole family – which must have been the office memo when they dreamt up this reboot.