January 6, 2018 – I've been watching scores of serious movies in awards season, documentaries, dramas, foreign films about existential ennui, so I took a break to watch this, just for fun. It is a fun comedy adventure film with a message about not judging people by their appearances.
I had seen three previous movies based on the books by author Chris Van Allsburg, “Jumanji” (1995) “The Polar Express” (2004) and “Zathura: A Space Adventure” (2005) so this is familiar territory for me and others who have seen the films or read the books. The themes of working together, finding the best in people, making new friends and discovering your own inner strengths are all here.
This is a bit different in that the Jumanji board game becomes a video game and the kids morph into adults for the duration of the adventure, but like two of the previous films, the kids do get transported into a virtual new universe where they have to work together to complete the game and escape from it.
The kids are standard types, the shy nerds, Spencer (Alex Wolff) and Martha (Morgan Turner), the jock, Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain) and the drama queen Bethany (Madison Iseman). They wind up in detention together and discover the Jumanji game there.
Once transported into the game their minds are inserted into the adult avatars of game characters. In the game, Spencer is played by Dwayne Johnson of “San Andreas,” Fridge is played by Kevin Hart of “Ride Along,” Martha is played by Karen Gillan of “The Big Short” and Bethany is inserted into an adult male body, played by Jack Black of “Goosebumps.” Along the way, they discover another man trapped in the game, Alex (singer and actor Nick Jonas).
The challenges of this film are many. One is that the adult characters have to play like teenagers suddenly trapped in adult bodies. Jack Black, as an adult male trying to act like a girl trapped in a male body is surprisingly good and he seems to be having fun with the concept, especially in a scene where he tries to teach the nerdy girl Martha how to be seductive. Karen Gillan is very good in this scene also, playing a clueless klutz.
Duane Johnson is also surprisingly good as a nerd who suddenly has to become an action hero. Kevin Hart does a nice job playing a massive football player trapped in a much smaller body. He still has the attitude of a jock, but not the body to match. Martha and Spencer both have to learn to be more assertive and aggressive to succeed in the trials of the game. Bethany has to learn to be more empathetic and supportive in order to help win the game.
Complicating the situation is that these players are given certain strengths and weaknesses by the game in addition to their own native skills. Sometimes this runs counter to the skills they had in their real world bodies. Fridge, who was a star football player is a fast runner, but in the game, he is slow, one many frustrations for him as he has to learn to become the sidekick instead of the star. The villainous game avatar Van Pelt is played by Bobby Cannavale of “Ant-Man.”
Although the pace of the movie slows down at times, it is a good adventure story and a good character study aided by some solid performances. This film rates a C+.
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