Jumanji – Welcome to the Jungle

Director: Jake Kasdan. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan. Length: 119 minutes.

In 1996, Alex finds Jumanji on a beach, but he’s disappointed to discover that it’s just a board game. So Jumanji “updates” itself and transforms into a console cartridge.

The boy starts to play, but he’s literally sucked in it. Twenty years later, four high school kids in detention find the console while cleaning an old room of the school. Intrigued, they join the unfinished game, and they too are sucked inside the videogame. They find themselves inside the bodies of pre-chosen avatars, and are forced to complete a mission.

After finding Alex, who’s been stuck inside the game for 20 years, they’ll have to take the jewel of the Jaguar God, stolen by the fearsome Russell Van Pelt, back to its rightful place, so that balance can be re-established in Jumanji and they all can go back home.

Jumanji – Welcome to the Jungle settles halfway between a sequel and a reboot of the cult movie of the nineties starring Robin Williams.

The protagonists of this new adventure are after the same goal of the previous chapter: finish the game in order to go back to normal and re-establish the order broken by Jumanji. But here the dynamic is inverted. It is no longer the jungle with its inhabitants to invade our world, instead our protagonists are thrown into a videogame’s virtual jungle.

There are no longer pawns moving on a board game, but actual avatars, heroes/characters with specific points of strength and weakness and with three lives at their disposal, after which the game ends in a game over. Standard videogame rules.

The four teenage protagonists end up inside an avatar’s body and find themselves with completely different features from the ones they posses in real life: the nerdy kid Spencer steps into the shoes of a mighty and fearless explorer, football player Fridge finds himself inside the body of a short and clumsy zoologist, the beautiful and vain Bethany becomes a middle aged overweight cartographer, and the antisocial and insecure Martha is suddenly a seductive assassin.

If on one hand the fact that the kids are trapped inside their exact “opposite” and are then forced to confront strengths and weaknesses alien to them has a predictable effect on their growth arc, the juxtaposition between their avatars and their teen spirit creates hilarious comedic moments, which end up being the most successful and interesting elements of the movie.

All of this gives the story a completely different tone from the one permeating the 1995 Jumanji.

Comedy prevails over dramatic tension. If the adventurous spirit is left intact, what is lacking is the sense of danger and anxiety. This is partly due to the film’s premise. The kids end up in a virtual reality of sorts, where the chance of having more than one life have a diminshing effect on the sense of risk they’re exposed to. Even if the possibility of death is mentioned several times, it’s hard to actually perceive it.

Moreover, the alter-egos of the protagonists have special powers, given to face an enemy that in the end is not really that frightening. The real enemy to defeat is the fear within the teenager behind the avatar, who must accept him/herself for what he/she actually is and must learn to work and confront with a partner who’s different from him/herself.

Even Alex’s story, trapped inside the game for 20 years, is not told with the same dramatic tones the one of William’s character was shown in.

So, more than a scary adventure, the movie offers a fun and enjoyable story and given the themes it deals with and the age of its protagonists, it’s probably more fit for a teen audience.

Problematic elements for the viewer: light sexual references.