"Are you really telling your family to go see Jumanji?" my boyfriend asked me at Christmas dinner, a little confused.
Yes, I was.
There's a marked difference between a good movie and a movie I like, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the sequel to the 1995 original, falls into the latter category. Jumanji is neither good or bad, and like most mainstream action movies, it's predictable in a way that causes you forget what you just watched almost immediately after viewing. But goddamn, it is fun—the perfect escape to the hell that 2017 hath wrought, which is why I was gushing about it to my family over Christmas dinner. For 119 minutes, I was transported into the wild world of Jumanji, and I wasn't thinking about the fact that Donald Trump is president and how cruel the world can be.
It's hard for me to compare the sequel to the original Jumanji because I haven't seen it since I was a toddler and don't remember much of it. (I think I blocked it out because I was terrified of Robin Williams as a child.) But you don't need any knowledge of the first movie to follow the second: Four high schoolers—a nerd, a popular girl, a jock, and a weird girl—find themselves in a Breakfast Club-like situation, stuck in detention where they find a retro video game called Jumanji. After selecting their avatars, they are transported into the world of Jumanji, in which they have to win the game in order to get back to real life.
The nerd (played by Alex Wolff) suddenly finds himself in the body of the practically invincible Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson), while the jock (Ser'Darius Blain) becomes Franklin "Mouse" Finbar (Kevin Hart), Dr. Bravestone's sidekick and weapons valet. While the weird girl (Morgan Turner) becomes the sexy Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), the hot girl (Madison Iseman) has the misfortune of being transferred to the body of Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black). The cowardly nerd is now a babe, and Johnson's performance, his amazement and discomfort with his new sexy body, is delightful.
The jock, on the other hand, becomes short and weak, but remains salty, in the role Kevin Hart was born to play. The weird girl learns how to be a hot girl, and the hot girl, through being trapped in the body of an ugly "middle-aged man," learns how to feel compassion for others. Comedy ensues. Nick Jonas eventually makes an appearance.
What surprised me most about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was that it actually managed to be funny. I was dubious that Jack Black playing a teenage girl would be a tired and sexist joke, but I underestimated Jack Black. He brought life and dimension to a character that could have easily fallen flat.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is the type of film where you know the ending before it even begins. Of course everything is going to turn out just fine for the four protagonists, this is a PG-13 action adventure for crying out loud. What I appreciated was that it didn't rely on nostalgia for the original Jumanji to succeed.
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