Remakes – the bane of many a film fan’s existence; particularly when said fan’s favourite movies experiences are being given a new sheen, a new gimmick to try to refresh and reinvigorate what has gone before. But Hollywood has done such things for decades and even some of the classics are themselves new versions of what came before. The question will always be can a remake bring something new to the table, can it find a smart new way of taking the old and making it sparkle again? Well, in the case of Jake Kasdan’s new trip into the realms of Jumanji, it’s somewhat surprising to report that the answer is an emphatic “yes”.
Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle; dir.: Jake Kasdan; USA 2017, 119 minutes. Our Rating: ★★★★/5
Originally brought to life in 1995 by Captain America: The First Avenger helmer Joe Johnston, Jumanji was based on the book by Chris Van Allsberg and starred the late Robin Williams as a young man who was mysteriously sucked into a board game for decades until two new players (one of which was a young Kirsten Dunst) started their own round of board-game mayhem and a plethora of jungle creatures began terrorising a small American suburb. A sequel was always mooted but never came to fruition so when a new film was announced wth Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart amongst those involved, many weren’t keen on what was being offered. Dispelling such negativity, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle does almost everything it was asked and more: a fun-filled, colourful, funny and beautifully orchestrated blockbuster that will bring a smile to many a face.
This time Jumanji is a video game and four teenagers are stuck in detention have been sucked into it and taken on the characters they have chosen. A bit of a fad some may say but it’s actually the film’s greatest achievement, both visually and narratively – the characters are bound by the rules of a typical game, whether it’s the limitations of their characters, the lives they are given in order to survive, meeting other inhabitants of the jungle that simply serve to move the game along, and in doing so gives the film a freshness, an edge and consequences that wouldn’t have been there if this had just been a jungle adventure film while still being mountains of fun.
Kasdan’s direction is sharp and fluid, bringing a breakneck speed to proceedings that keep the somewhat overlong running time from petering out completely while filling the screen with an abundance of wonder and spectacle. Indeed it helps no end having four performers at the top of their game here with Johnson and Hart bringing their usual gusto while Gillan thrives in a role that is less eye-candy and more strong-willed and powerful. But it’s Black who is the film’s MVP and showcases his immense comic talents at their peak just as he did in School of Rock. A volcanic eruption of laughter and pitch-perfect timing, who knew his calling would be portraying a phone-obsessed millenial woman?
While there are some sticking points through the film – it’s too long and has a horribly generic villain, although as this is a video game, maybe that’s the point? – Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a supremely welcome riff on what has come before and is in its own right a vibrant, energetic and supremely entertaining time at the cinema.