Review: 'Welcome to the Jungle' stands on its own from 'Jumanji'
Considering the rate at which Hollywood has been remaking every nostalgic theatrical success it can get its hands on, it might have actually been offensive if the 1995 classic "Jumanji" continued remake-less for much longer, considering how cool its unexpectedly creepy premise is for a comedic family film.
A movie about a malicious sentient board game that warps reality around its players in order to ensure they finish the game or die trying? Sure, sounds perfect for a kids' movie. No childhood is complete without watching Robin Williams lean into the camera to tell you, “I've seen things you've only seen in your nightmares. Things you can't even imagine. Things you can't even see. Afraid? You don't even know what afraid is.”
Though the new "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" doesn’t have any lines so unsettlingly iconic, the new gimmick of kids being sucked into a video game arguably makes it even funnier than the original. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Karen Gillan and Jack Black all make the absolute most out of the “teenager stuck in a strange adult body that’s nothing like their own” schtick, and the result is hysterical. Jack Black gets extra kudos for turning what I thought was going to just be “teenage girls are shallow and terrible” into an actual character who is sympathetic and hilarious in her own right. To contrast his co-stars, Kevin Hart doesn’t play “teenager sucked into a video game” so much as he plays “Kevin Hart sucked into a video game.” Though it does take away from the conceit of the movie, Kevin Hart as himself is still pretty funny, and it doesn’t take away from the performances of the rest of the cast.
Though the premise of "Welcome to the Jungle" might be fundamentally based in references to '90s video games, the audience doesn’t have to have experience with games of that era (or even video games in general) to enjoy it. Most of the characters themselves are unfamiliar with the old RPGs "Jumanji" imitates, so the audience is introduced to them through the cast’s point of view. While a lot of the jokes reference game mechanics, they’re funny enough on their own that having knowledge of the media is just an added bonus.
The evolution of the central plot device even adds a creepier undertone to the original premise by establishing the supernatural game’s ability to fundamentally change its mechanics in order to better capture its prey. Its casual transformation from “board game” to “video game” to fit with the times begs the question: Just how old is Jumanji anyway? The movie doesn’t say, but it gives off a way stronger “primordial evil” vibe than you would generally expect from a comedy adventure movie where Jack Black pretends to be an Instagram-addicted teenage girl.
Though the movie's plot and characters are by no means revolutionary, they're fun twists on a lot of old concepts for a new audience. It stands up as a comedy even without the nostalgia of the original, so if you yourself have never experienced Robin Williams lecturing you on the true nature of fear, you can enjoy the new addition to the franchise regardless. Which is more than can be said for a lot of Hollywood remakes these days.