03 January 2018

First Impressions: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Yes, amidst all the hustle and bustle of the end of the year, with parties and family, and trying to crank out as many last minute end-of-year movie viewings as possible, along with writing all this shit down, I managed to get to the theater and watch one more release before it was all over. No, no, not The Shape of Water (2017). Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017).

Now, I don't know why it wasn't called Welcome 2 the Jungle, or even, Jumanji 2: Wel2ome 2 the 2ungle. I suppose they didn't want to be confused with the Tim Allen movie Jungle 2 Jungle (1997), or they're just all Hollywood and not really wanting to remind folks it's a sequel. Let's talk about this for a bit, now this is not going to be Star Wars-length, because there really isn't much here, but SPOILERS in the following discussion, if you really care enough about this movie. Actually, I could tell you the exact ending (you actually know it already, it's exactly as you picture it) and it wouldn't detract from your enjoyment.

such smoldering intensity
And that's actually an important thing about this movie - it is damn enjoyable. Yeah it's totally predictable and corny and there's no semblance of depth or theme, but it's pretty fun. The cast is having an absolute blast and the chemistry between the Rock and Kevin Hart is dynamite. Jack Black hasn't been this good in years (he's hardly been in anything), and he plays a vapid teenage girl remarkably well. I should probably explain that. Much more on Karen Gillan later.

The movie actually picks up right were Jumanji (1996) left off. For those that forget, Jumanji was about a mysterious jungle game that appears in the 1960s and sucks in little Alan Parrish, which pretty much ruins everyone's lives. Thirty years later he's freed by Kirsten Dunst and pops out as Robin Williams, but they have to finish the game. CGI animal chaos ensues, kind of like a terrifying Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995). Eventually the game is finished and in one of the most fucked up family adventure movie endings ever, everything is reset to 1969 with the kids' memories intact of their future lives. They changed history, man! Especially at the end when Kirsten Dunst and monkey boy show up again, it's so weird and creepy.

Anyway, Robin Williams tried to ditch the game, but it's got a consciousness or something and is also a dick. It quickly finds some other 90s chode to taunt, but since board games are lame, he ignores it. Obviously that's no problem, Jumanji just morphs Bumblebee-style into a kewl modern video game, which then sucks in the player.

This is where the plot diverges, and it does so in a refreshing way. Instead of a retread with the same kind of tropes we see the inverse. The game lies dormant for another twenty years when it's found by a modern-day group of misfits. Each of their four characters are actually well-established, even if they're mostly stock. We know their motivations, their desires, and the conflicts that will arise in their new weird bodies. See, they all get sucked in, but within Jumanji this time they're not just wiener kid Alan Parrish, they're the video game avatars they've chosen. The dweeb becomes the Rock, the jock becomes Kevin Hart, the hot chick becomes Jack Black, and the nerdy chick becomes Karen Gillan.

Now let's spend some time on that. This movie is clearly trying to have its cake and eat it too. Karen Gillan is dressed like a straight Angela Jolie Tomb Raider (Even video game Lara Croft has since been updated to be more practical), and they comment that it's kind of a useless outfit, and she's uncomfortable with how hot she is. But she is soooo hot. The male gaze is clearly still apparent. She could have bought some pants or something in the bazaar once they lampshaded the hotness. It ends up feeling really exploitative. Her failed flirting is one of the funniest scenes in the movie, and if you compare this with her turn as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) you actually need to respect Gillan's range and the year she had, but it's still awkward here. Then again, so hot. You know they were never going to not showcase hot Karen Gillan.

Morally it's rough water but I'm also horny as hell, so I was able to swing into the fun, still. And the first Jumanji was kind of fun in a madcap David Alan Grier sort of way, but this is just bonkers. Kevin Hart explodes from eating cake! That's the level we're talking about. Of course, that's in the trailer, and the trailers spoil most of the best jokes. What really helped, though, was seeing this in the theater with a five-year old kid in the row in front of me, and I think some intellectually disabled folks, who laughed at every single silly moment. And this movie is surprisingly kid-friendly. It is a little weird that apparently it's totally okay to have Karen Gillan in hot pants for the kids. We need to move on.

Besides the game itself, which transitions to a knock-off SEGA Genesis pretty quickly, there are scant references to the first film. There is exactly one mention of Alan Parrish and we see his tree hideout. Something that lacks is that despite the characters actually dying (they all have three lives - it's a video game!) the land doesn't seem as scary as was hinted at in Jumanji. There just seemed like deep dark danger at every turn - lions and Aubrey II and 19th-Century English hunters at every turn. This Jumanji seems like kind of a cool place to chill out for a bit. Yeah, there's some Jaguars and weird pirate people I guess, but it all feels kind of neutered.

Still, in a movie like this, none of this really matters. The tone, atmosphere, cast chemistry, charisma, and appeal smooths over all the rough patches and delivers a pretty entertaining movie. I'd like to think this could have made more of a cultural impact had it not premiered the week after The Last Jedi (2017), but it's actually done solid business so far. That is of course actually do to the exposure Star Wars gives everybody - drive more people to the theater, see more previews, posters, other flicks. It all works.

One last thing - we said the ending of the original Jumanji was fucked up? Well, this ending is like the same thing but crazy worse. The Rock saves the kid who zapped into Jumanji twenty years ago, and like the first movie, it spits him back to his own time, where he lives his life and grows up to be a metal-loving Colin Hanks for some reason. Then he names his kid after Jack Black's character, who he was totally jonesing on, but she's also now in High School and he's middle-aged, and also not a hairy, overweight man. It's so weird.

Anyway, a solid Two Big Toes up. There's lots of crap here, but overall the movie does what it wants to do.

1 comment:

  1. The more I hear about this film the more I want to see it. Also I agree...So hot.


Related Posts with Thumbnails