Monday, January 8, 2018

The Critical Frog: Jumanji- Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

With many remakes of older films, it becomes necessary that the movie is updated to reflect modern sensibilities. After all, not only has your previous target audience aged up and probably wants to see a more serious take on the old classic, but their replacements have different tastes as well (you definitely could not get away with some of the exploitation films of the earlier days of the motion picture in today's politically correct society). Some audiences are looking for a fresh new take on a film from their childhood, and newer viewers are looking for something that can hold their attention. Sometimes, the combination of old and new works in the movie's favor- and apparently this is more common in jungle-themed films, as both today's film and the recent Jungle Book remake show.

The plot of the original Jumanji is simple for something with such an interesting concept- a magical board game themed around a jungle plunges its players into a danger-filled world that can only be escaped by winning. While it's not a fantastic movie, per se, it was unique, and eventually spawned a sequel of its own (Zathura). Years later it has been remade, and to try to adapt to it's audience's changing ideals, they've added a few things- some that work, and some that don't. Instead of small children discovering and unleashing the board game upon the world, it's a mystical video game cartridge discovered by high school teenagers.

I have to say, my only huge problem with the film is these teenagers in their normal high school setting. Every one of them is a bit of a jerk (especially Bethany, the preppy beauty queen), which is common for high school situations, but some of their lines are just so mean-spirited and frustrating (Bethany actually calls her friend in class during a test). By the time they all land in detention for one reason or another, you really want the game to appear- not out of interest but out of the desire to see something interesting rather than another high school drama. That's what the first ten minutes of the film feel like, and they're easily the worst part of the film. But this is quickly remedied by the four teens getting sucked into the video game, when they transform into the people we actually came to see. Unflattering nerd Martha is transformed into a buxom hottie, buff jock Fridge is replaced by the short and timid Kevin Hart ("am I still black?" he asks), Bethany's selection of the 'Curvy Genius' turns out to place her in the body of Jack Black (OK, that one got a laugh out of me), and main character nerdy Spencer gets the best slice of the pie. For he is transformed into Dr. Bravestone, smoldering buff man and all-around badass- or as we know him in real life, Dwayne Johnson. But with these new bodies, can they work together to defeat the game's villain and get out? Will they end up like the last person who owned the game (Nick Jonas)? And what happens once you lose all three lives?

I'll admit, I always do have fun watching Dwayne Johnson on the silver screen. The wrestler-turned-actor seems like a genuinely sweet guy, and he always looks like he's doing his best and having fun in any part he plays. There's a lot of joy you feel from watching The Rock just be The Rock- strong, savvy, and at times a joker- that really makes you like the guy. He manages to be likable in any role he's in- which is all I can ask for an actor. So it goes without saying that he and the other game actors are easily the best part of the film. Johnson and Kevin Hart have worked together well in the past (see 'Central Intelligence', which was OK), and Jack Black is always fun to watch. Together they play off each other well, and that's one of the highlights of the film.

The other is the setting: much like the Jungle Book remake (except with less sultry-voiced snakes and Christopher Walken), everything in the jungle is alive and breathing. You can see the plants moving in the wind, the fire flickering on the torches, and the breathing of the animals. It's really spectacular to see- it can be wide and daunting when it wants to or cramped and claustrophobic when it calls for it. Some of the areas are laid out like a video game, with enemies to fight, hazards to avoid, and even puzzles, bosses, and 'cheat codes'- which is a nice little touch that fits the theme.

Overall, is it a very good film? I wouldn't call it that. There's a lot of plot holes, some stupid character choices and bad comedy (at one point Bethany is shocked she now owns a penis, which leads to a literal peeing lesson), and of course the beginning could throw a lot of people off as to what kind of film the second act and beyond becomes. But once the teens get sucked into the game, it's a nice little romp. Definitely not a classic, but a fun hour of corny action and goofball jungle adventures. It's worth a watch just to see The Rock's legendary smolder in action.

Overall Rating: 6/10
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This movie opens the door to all sorts of sequels. Here are some of my ideas:

-Jumanji 2, Electric Zoboomafoo

-The Jonas Brothers Rescue Mission (Nick Jonas is in the game! We gotta get him out!)

-Jumanji National Treasure Edition (where Dwayne Johnson and crew steal the Declaration of Independence guest starring Nicolas Cage as the villain)

-Jumanji IN SPAAAAAACCCCEEEEEEE (OK, thats just Zathura)
And my personal favorite,

-"Your New Body and You", in which Dwayne Johnson spends an hour and a half teaching Jack Black the wonders of having a penis. Special musical guests Da Vinci's Code.


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