Movie Review: 'Jumangi: Welcome to the Jungle'

A good pick for families who enjoy action adventures.
Sony Pictures Publicity
"Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" brings back the same magic as the original "Jumanji" with an unpredictable, energetic, fast-paced and surprisingly enchanting plot.

Have you ever been so caught up in a video game that you feel like you are vicariously living through the character in the game? That’s what “Jumangi: Welcome to the Jungle” is all about. You might remember the 1995 "Jumanji" movie about teenagers who find themselves trapped inside a board game. This new film takes that basic premise into the computer age, with teenagers being sucked into a video game. "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" is an upgrade that brings back the same magic as the original did.

The story begins in 1996, as teenager Alex Vreeke (played by Mason Guccione) receives the Jumanji board game from his Dad. When Alex dismisses the board game, it somehow transforms into a video game cartridge. When Alex puts the game cartridge into his console, he is sucked into the game.

Flash forward 20 years later, we are introduced to four high school students in detention. The foursome includes nerdy gamer Spencer (played by Alex Wolff), football quarterback “Fridge” (Ser’Darius Blain), cheerleader Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman), and a shy girl named Martha (Morgan Turner). The principal asks them to remove staples from old magazines, so that the paper can be recycled. Amidst the clutter, the teens find an old video game system and the Jumangi game cartridge. They turn on the console and discover it’s a multiple-player action-adventure video game. Each of the teens selects an avatar so that they can play the game. Somehow, they are sucked into the game and find themselves in a jungle.

Each of the teens becomes their game avatar, with a new identity and different physical body. Spencer is explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone (played by Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson), Fridge is zoologist Moose Finbar (played by Kevin Black), Martha is commando Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and Bethany is the chubby Professor Sheldon Oberon (played by Jack Black). The foursome realize they have left the world behind and become someone else. Yes, they’re in a video game and each player has three lines on their wrist, symbolizing their three lives. In other words, they can die and come back into the game three times. Each avatar also comes with special powers, but they also have weaknesses.

The foursome get into a jeep driven by a “Non Player Character” named Nigel (played by Rhys Darby). Nigel explains that explorer Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) has obtained the jewel, the “Jaguar’s Eye,” which enables him to manipulate Jumanji’s animals. Van Pelt is the villain of the film. The goal of the game is to return the jewel to a jaguar statue and call out “Jumanji.” If the players do this, then the game ends and they will return to their normal lives.


How suitable is it for families?

“Jumnaji: Welcome to the Jungle” is rated PG-13 for adventure action, mild sexual innuendo, and some foul language. This is a film that will appeal to movie-goers of all ages, especially if you like video games. However, you can expect some swearing and off-color jokes. There are life-and-death situations with moderate violence. Each main character dies several times within the game, but are regenerated quickly.

There’s some awkward kissing and flirting. As mentioned earlier, Jack Black plays a teenage girl trapped inside a man’s body, which appears to be the filmmaker’s nod to transgenderism. Although no nudity is shown, Black marvels at having a penis and how he can use it to relieve himself. (At the screening I attended, this scene caused the audience to howl with laughter). There are some instances where women distract men by flirting and acting sexy, which probably isn’t a good example for young girls.

The movie’s villain, Van Pelt, is somewhat scary with glowing red eyes and his threat to hunt down and kill the avatar characters. Van Pelt also commands the beasts of the jungle to do his evil deeds. Centipedes crawl in and out of his ears, and snakes, jaguars and hippos chase and attack people.


Final Take

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” ends up being very funny, suspenseful and entertaining. Actor Jack Black stands out for his hilarious performance as a teenage girl trapped inside a middle-aged man’s body. I also chuckled at Karen Gillian, who plays a marital-arts powerhouse  who uses her female wiles to outwit the enemy. Later in the film, actor Nick Jonas, plays a teenager trapped inside an ace pilot’s body, adding another dimension of suspense and intrigue to the story.

Overall, there is a positive message about teamwork, and putting aside differences in order to work together and win the game. The characters in the film ultimately experience a dramatic transformation, physically and emotionally. They go from having nothing in common to being close friends. The movie is a good pick for families who enjoy action adventures, especially if you saw the original "Jumanji" or read the Chris Van Allsburg book on which both films are based.