Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is filled with humor and fun, and finds a way to revamp the story in a new and exciting way.

Four high schoolers, from various social groups, are all sent to detention on the same day, and are tasked with cleaning up the school’s basement. In the basement, they find a video game titled Jumanji and decide to play. The students are pulled into the video game, and become the avatars they chose. They realize the only way they can leave is by finishing the game.

There is nothing incredibly special about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, but the film manages to create a story that is consistently fun and filled with effective humor. The film mostly succeeds through the strong performances, based on the nature of the premise.

While there are four younger actors portraying the high school students, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, and Kevin Hart become the characters once they enter the game. They maintain the personalities of the high school students, yet have specific skills and reputations in the game.

Jumanji’s premise really benefits Johnson and Hart, as they are forced to break away from their typical characters, instead taking on their respective high school personas of a nerd and a jock and the associated vulnerabilities. It is heartening to see Gillan in such a significant role in a major film. More so than the others, she takes on the physicality of an awkward high schooler, not just the speech.

Despite great performances all around, Jack Black gives the most impressive performance of the film. Black’s character differs from the others in part because high school student Bethany accidentally chose his avatar, erroneously believing “Professor Shelly Oberson” to be a female, while the other students chose avatars that matched their gender. Not only is Bethany female, but she is also vain and popular; looking like Jack Black is her worst nightmare.

Even though Johnson and Hart play characters different from what they usually play, it still feels to some extent like Johnson and Hart. However, Black truly becomes Bethany. Black gives a fantastic performance that is not only hilarious but also touching. While this is definitely a gimmicky device, Black commits so much to the character that this choice really pays off. Overall, the film is greatly enhanced by the humor and performances.

While this is simply a fun adventure movie, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle takes the effort to develop each of the characters, and build relationships between them. These are not original nor incredibly dimensional characters and arcs, but it is just enough to give the film humanity.

At times, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle does feel like watching a video game more so than watching a movie, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. This is a positive because this means the film does what it sets out to do and creates a story that is convincing as a video game.

This is also a negative because the story is a little too simple and tedious to be a great movie, and is missing the interactivity that would make a video game with this story effective. Jumanji’s story is incredibly linear, and plots a weak villain, due to no fault of Bobby Cannavale, who does the best with the little he is given.

However, the film’s portrayal as a video game is entertaining. It matches many of the mechanics of a game such as Uncharted (of which the film prominently features a poster), which is amusing to see duplicated in a film. Characters recognize cutscenes (movie-like scenes in a game), music plays when they must take action, and they interact with non-player characters. Unfortunately, those who would appreciate this may be frustrated not being able to control the main characters.

The film can be a little cringe-worthy at times, when the high school students do not sound like real teenagers, especially before the game, and when the music is obtrusive, outside of when it intentionally plays in the game. Otherwise, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is exciting and funny, and it is easy to get lost in this world.

Grade: B+

‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ opened in theaters December 20, 2017

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