This is the very opposite of a good idea.
Considering the first jumanji was made over 20 years ago (and wasn’t even that good), making a sequel that no one really wanted to begin with seemed like a truly boneheaded idea. It’s about four kids who get sucked into the game Jumanji, like before, but instead of a board game, it’s a video game. This sounds like a focus-grouped concept that’s desperately trying to appeal to the audiences of today. However, there’s one major thing that points to the film’s potential success: The cast.
The cast is ridiculous. The Rock, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Nick Jonas. The star power is so massive you can almost taste it. Fans of The Rock (which is roughly 90% of the Earth’s population) will see it, fans of Kevin Hart will see it, fans of Central Intelligence will see it for the return of Hart and Johnson’s chemistry, fans of Jack Black will see it, Doctor Who fans will see it for Karen Gillan, and millions of white girls will watch it because Nick Jonas is a hunk. The amount of people who would be interested to see this movie on the cast alone is staggering.
So what’s the deal with the actual movie? First, I want you to imagine what you expect me to say. Think about it. A comedy sequel based on a movie I didn’t like to begin with. Marketing that doesn’t do it any favors. A director whose last film was a 2014 movie entitled Sex Tape starring Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz with a whopping 17% on RottenTomatoes. Five writers. I mean, look at the opening line on this review. This has every ingredient to be the perfect middling-to-bad December comedy that tries to compete with juggernauts like Star Wars, but ultimately ends up swept under the rug. A forgotten blip on the careers of everyone involved.
It has earned (at the time of this writing) over $822 million dollars worldwide. It has a 76% on RottenTomatoes. It overtook Star Wars in a matter of weeks at the box office. It overperformed by every expert’s estimation, and was the first #1 movie of 2018. If only the English language hosted the words strong enough to express my shock. However, the words that describe my feelings for this movie exist, so I will proceed to say them.
It’s OK. It’s not a technical marvel by any means, it isn’t bursting with any kind of great cinematography, it doesn’t have a story that takes a huge amount of twists and turns and leaves you guessing, it’s not a movie for any kind of thinking person, but (and here’s the kicker) it doesn’t try to be one. It knows exactly what it is and makes the best of its’ situation, and, as a result, it focuses in on the main draw of these movies: The humor. It’s a funny movie, due to the chemistry between the four leads and the semi-creative writing. The film’s ideas are presented well, and the movie does everything it can think of with the concept it’s drummed up for itself. Speaking of which, this movie handles it’s concept very well. It knows how ridiculous it is, and acts accordingly, with outlandish physical comedy and some very entertaining action scenes that seem ripped out of a game like Saint’s Row 3, except in the jungle.
Something about this film that I really like is the way it handles lives in a video game sense. Each of the player characters in this movie have limited lives, and when they die, they lose one. If they lose all of them, they die for real. It’s like Spy Kids 3, but with a much better grasp on how games work and a more brutal sense of mortality. Characters die in gruesome ways, and the film rarely leaves anything to the imagination. It establishes the darkly humorous tone the first film set, but instead of switching halfway through to a Home Alone-style slapstick, it maintains this for the whole runtime, and I couldn’t be happier about that.
This film was obviously written by people who play video games, because there are quite a few entertaining gags that poke fun at NPCs, game logic, stupid amounts of unrealistic enemies, a seemingly arbitrary goal, and much more. It’s by no means a deep, insightful critique on the state of video games or anything like that, but I think people expecting Jumanji 2 to be deep and insightful in any regard are expecting the wrong things. The jokes they make about games are mainstream enough to be funny to the general audience, and knowledgeable enough to be funny to most gamers.
It almost goes without saying that the main characters are entertaining to watch, so I won’t go into a whole lot of detail about them. I wanted to highlight two performances as being particularly surprising: Jack Black and Nick Jonas. These two kinda threw me for a loop, because I wasn’t expecting either of them to be as good as they were. I mean, I was expecting Black to be fun, but not to the extent that he actually was. He managed to emulate the basic white girl personality to hilarious effect, and while it did get a little annoying sometimes, this is more due to the writing rather than Black’s performance. Nick Jonas, on the other hand, I didn’t expect anything from. He’s apparently got a respectable performance already under his belt with the movie Goat, but I haven’t seen it, so I couldn’t tell you if he was any good. In Jumanji 2, Nick Jonas pulls off a performance that’s both funny and sympathetic, and shines just as bright as the four leads.
Of course, I did only say this movie was OK. Not because my feelings towards it are purely mediocre, but because not every aspect of the film is as entertaining as the stars and concept. The villain is bland; while he has a ridiculous concept and some silly moments, he’s not exactly the good kind of over-the-top video game villain. He’s not intimidating enough to be someone like Andrew Ryan from Bioshock, nor is he bombastic enough to be entertaining in the way that Steven Armstrong from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is. It’s like they tried to combine the two kinds of game villain, but instead of being both, he’s neither.
As I mentioned before, this movie doesn’t extend beyond anything average in terms of visual style or storytelling. It’s not really exciting to look at unless it’s an action scene, and it’s not an amazing story by any regard. There are a couple character moments that are handled really well, but it’s mostly by-the-numbers in execution. This isn’t really a bad thing, but it’s also not necessarily a good thing. While the film’s enjoyable, it plateaus on the filmmaking front.
There’s stuff with the teenagers who actually get sucked into the game, and they’re probably some of the worst parts of the movie. This movie has difficulty with making characters more than one-note stereotypes, and while the characters in the game have some semblance of layers to them, the teenagers themselves don’t really have that. The ending is a little too sweet, it doesn’t make a lot of sense because the rules of the game that have been consistent across both movies is suddenly broken. I would have liked to see it played out differently.
Still, I enjoyed this movie, as odd as that may seem. It was a fun little movie about video games that had more knowledge of video games than is usually common, and more star power than it deserved. It’s a good time, if you don’t expect too much you’ll be fine. I mean, it’s Jumanji 2. What are you expecting, really?
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