April 18, 2018

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
Grade: 36/100

Director: Jake Kasdan
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart

What it's about. A reboot of the 1995 Robin Williams vehicle. Suburban American teenagers are sucked into a video game, and must complete it successfully to return to their former lives. The game is difficult and highly dangerous, and the players must work together to succeed.

Four of the teen players are from 2017. They include: video game nerd Alex Wolff, black jock Ser'Darius Blain, spoiled hottie Madison Iseman, and depressive Morgan Turner. While serving detention, they encounter the game, and enter it in virtual reality fashion, assuming the physiques of their characters.

Wolff becomes heroic man-mountain Dwayne Johnson, Blain becomes backpack carrier and comedian Kevin Hart, Iseman (in an unwanted gender switch) becomes portly and bearded Jack Black, and Turner becomes martial arts fighter and hottie redhead Karen Gillan. Later in the game, they meet a fifth player, hunky and self-doubting pilot Nick Jonas, who has been in the game since 1996.

The goal of the game is to save jungle land Jumanji from creepy villain Bobby Cannavale, who can compel the jungle's animals to do his evil bidding. The MacGuffin is a large green emerald, which must be returned to a panther statue. The five players learn to use their respective strengths to win the game, and must do so before their lives (each player has three) are consumed.

How others will see it. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was ignored by most prestigious film festivals. It did garner a single nomination from the Saturn Awards, as Best Fantasy Film.

Despite critical indifference, the movie was a box office monster, grossing close to 1B worldwide. The film has a big 145K user votes, and they are fairly high. The user ratings confirm a modest gender gap, 6.9 out of 10 from men, and 7.4 from women. As one might expect, teen viewers grade it somewhat higher than adults.

Fans, who are in the majority, appreciate the action, adventure, humor, suspense, romance, characters, and actors. Everyone agrees that Karen Gillan is hot. The minority in the dissent call the film stereotypical, and unfavorably compare it to the Robin Williams original.

How I felt about it. Karen Gillan wears skimpy outfits and is nice to look at. She is familiar to me since she spent a couple seasons in "Doctor Who", a favorite television show of my late wife. Checking out Gillan is the sole draw for this movie, since we know that any Dwayne Johnson vehicle is unlikely to rise above mediocrity. That rule is confirmed here.

The villain, the motorcycle gangs, the cannibal hippos, killer snakes, and other antagonists are strictly conventional. I don't find it amusing that Jack Black plays a shallow teenage girl, but your results may vary. Gillan as a Laura Croft imitation has been done too often before, and the same can be said about Dwayne-Johnson-as-hero.

This leaves Kevin Hart's character, the former high school football hero now reduced to a short trash-talker, consequential solely because of his magic backpack. Hart's fear and loss of self-esteem are interesting, relative to everything else in this by-the-numbers action film. But not interesting enough to make the effort of watching worth my time.