The Rock is often credited with being able to breath life into dying franchises. However, if you really break it down, this is all coming from the fact that his first movie in the Fast and the Furious series was the fifth one, the one that really turned the franchise around, and made it into the box office juggernaut that it is today. Does The Rock get credit for that? He certainly should get some. His involvement in the series is without question a major part in the franchise’s revitalization. That being said, it seems like the Rock being used as a franchise saver doesn’t work out as often as we’ve been lead to believe. The Rock was added to the GI Joe sequel to revitalize the series but we’ve yet to see the franchise continue beyond that point. The Rock was added to the sequel for Journey to the Center of the Earth, but again, a rumored third movie has yet to see any forward momentum. Still, perhaps it’s the fact that the Fast and the Furious movies have just been THAT GOOD with the fifth one onward, but The Rock is still being given dwindling franchises in an effort to bring them back in as big a way as possible.
The latest movie franchise in that list is Jumanji, which now technically gets to be a franchise since a second one has come out more than twenty years after the first one. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle makes it clear that this is a sequel to the 1995 original movie, not a remake or a reboot that ignores the first movie. The movie opens up with the titular board game being found on a beach where it was last seen at the end of the first movie in 1996. The man who found the game, brings it home to his son, who ignores the present from his father saying “Who plays board games anymore.” This comment causes the board game to update, transforming itself into a video game in the middle of the night. The change works, because upon seeing the new video game, the son boots up the game quickly getting sucked into the world of Jumanji.
We’re then taken to present day where we meet our four man characters, filling out the four main character types that a high schooler can be in a movie, a nerd, a jock, a pretty popular girl, and a quiet, smart introvert (the one that The Breakfast Club would call the burnout) Through various situations over the course of the school day, all four of them find themselves in detention where they’re tasked with the most mundane task a high school principal can think of, and left in the school’s storage room where, unsurprisingly, they find a strange video game titled “Jumanji” is a box of things that had been donated to the school at some point. Each of the characters takes a controller and the foursome find themselves sucked into the world of Jumanji and into the bodies of the video game characters they selected to play as.
This is the point where the movie stars take over. The Rock plays the nerd, Kevin Hart is the Jock, Jack Black is the popular girl, and Karen Gillan is the avatar for the quiet introvert. For the most part this is pretty basic “people are their own opposite” comedy setup. It’s easy to see where the humor comes from with The Rock playing an awkward teenager transplanted into the body of…well The Rock. Jocks tend to be big, and Kevin Hart isn’t. Gillian’s character is a Lara Croft type of character complete with tight fitting clothing and only the top half of a shirt, to contrast the shy introverted girl, and Jack Black playing a teenage queen bee speaks for itself. These four high schoolers in the bodies of video game characters must complete the quest of the game set out before them and save Jumanji.
The things that you’d expect to work in this movie work really well. The Rock has time and again proved himself to be a great comedic lead in addition to being one of the top action stars in the world. He, along with the other main cast members are able to carry the movie with ease. There’s really not a weak link in the cast and each member gets at least one great, memorable moment. Perhaps surprisingly though is the strongest performance ends up coming from Jack Black. It would be easy enough for Black to spend most of the movie making fun of the stereotypes that are often given to popular teenage girls, but Black is able to pack an impressive amount of character development and some nuance into the character while still keeping the performance just as funny as if he had gone the easier, more obvious route. But while each individual actor turns in a strong performance, the thing that really works in the movie is the chemistry between the four leads. These four constantly bounce off of each other almost like a sketch comedy ensemble. They play any two of them are capable of pulling off a scene and even during moments where all four are involved, nobody is lost in the commotion or fades into the background. The four leads are easily the prime reason to see the movie.
Where the Jumanji starts to fall apart however, is in the actual story that the movie is trying to tell. While the original Jumanji movie featured several different jungle themed dangers throughout the movie, this movie seems to have stripped all of that down for a band of rogues on bikes that show up again and again and again. Sure there is the random hippo, or rhinoceros herd that show up for a moment or two, but then it’s right back to bad guys on bikes who seem to be the only real recurring danger that the heroes face. This may have been an attempt at cost cutting for a big budget action movie, but it makes the movie feel frustratingly empty at times. Plus there’s a subplot where the main villain can control the animals of Jumanji which you would think would lead to more animal threats, but it’s not clear if he only has that power sometimes, or maybe it works on some animals but not others, or maybe he just forgets that he has that power at points and we’re supposed to forget as well. Either way, it feels like a plot point that’s dropped and picked back up randomly through the movie whenever it’s convenient.
It’s never really made clear whether the actual game of “Jumanji” is an evil dangerous thing, or more of a lesson teaching, get kids to face their fears, motivational kind of entity. There are a few storylines that hint about what the nature of “Jumanji” could be, but it’s brought up way too late in the movie to ever really do anything with the idea, and the plot thread is quickly dropped with nothing more ever being said of it. The movie seems to jump haphazardly from one scene to the next. This type of storytelling is somewhat addressed by the movie, comparing the sudden jolts in they story to levels in a video game. And that explanation almost works. There are other “video game” aspects that really help out the storytelling. For example each character has clearly labeled strengths and weaknesses (which are used both for jokes and to drive the plot forward) and the way the movie uses the lives that each character has is a neat idea, but the level progression feeling ultimately feels half hearted. Like every other issue in the movie it’s something that feels like we’re only supposed to think about when it gets the story out of a corner, but not think about the rest of the time.
For the most part Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle feels like a movie that you would never dare to call bad, but that’s because, other than a few key points, most of the movie is too forgettable to have any real criticism thrown its way. The saving grace of the movie is the four main actors and their interactions with each other but that would have worked in any setting. The Jumanji aspects of the movie, the jungle and the game, feel like they’re used almost begrudgingly, giving us just enough plot to justify these characters being together. But in some ways that’s not the worst thing, because sometimes it’s just fun to see The Rock and Kevin Hart yell at each other.
Tags: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, dwayne johnson, film, Jack Black, jumanji welcome to the jungle, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, movie, review, The Rock