By Heidi Sutton
After a 21-year absence, the African drums are back and beating stronger than ever. Fresh, original and exciting, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” rightfully topped the charts last weekend as king of the mountain, bumping “Insidious” to second and “Star Wars” to third.
Directed by Jake Kasdan (“Bad Teacher,” “Sex Tape,”) “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is based on the 1981 children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. While many theorize the film is a remake of the original 1995 classic starring Robin Williams, it is actually a sequel that has been adapted for modern audiences where the creepy board game finds new unsuspecting players to terrorize. That was Kasdan’s goal from the beginning, reaffirmed in a recent interview with Forbes Magazine. “I loved the original movie, and [this new film] was a really cool extension of that, but it was vital to us that it stands on its own and be its own thing.”
This time around, instead of the jungle and all its creatures coming to town and creating havoc (remember the monkeys?), the four main characters are sucked into the game and have to overcome many obstacles to be able to come back home.
The year is 2016 and “Jumanji” has transformed itself into a video game, the only way it can attract its next victims (“who plays board games anymore?”). Sitting innocently on a shelf in a high school storage room, it peaks the interest of four students of Brantford High School who find it while serving detention for the afternoon. (Think “Breakfast Club.”) There’s Spencer Gilpin, self-proclaimed nerd; jock Anthony “Fridge” Johnson; popular girl Bethany Walker; and shy bookworm Martha Kaply. When each teenager chooses an avatar to start the game, they are teleported to a dangerous jungle and become the characters they have chosen.
Spencer is now Dr. Smolder Bravestone, played by the 6-foot 5-inch Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson; Fridge is the short zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart); Martha is a martial arts expert, Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan); and Bethany is an overweight, middle-aged cartographer named Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black). Black’s performance as a 16-year-old girl is brilliant.
The group soon realizes that they are in a video game, and each has just three lives. If they lose all three, they will die for real. Their mission is to steal the Jaguar’s Eye from big-game hunter, Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), return it to its rightful owner and win the game.
One of the funniest moments throughout the film is the special skills and weaknesses attributed to the avatars. While Gillan’s character weakness is venom and Black’s weakness is endurance, Hart’s weakness is strength, speed and cake, and instantly self-implodes when he takes a bite. On the other hand, The Rock has no weaknesses, only a “smoldering charisma,” which he utilizes quite often.
As the movie progresses, the avatars lose lifeline after lifeline, dying in various ways and then dropping from the sky for another try. When things start to look grim, they bump into Alex (Nick Jonas), a boy from their town who has been lost in the jungle for 20 years. Can the five combine their skills to overcome the game’s magical power and return home?
Filmed on the Hawaiian island of Kauai where “Jurassic World” was also filmed, the movie is visually stunning and the special effects are top notch. With a great script, adventure, action packed and funny as tech, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is now playing in area theaters.
Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and some language.