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How ‘Jumanji’ succeeds where most video game movies stumble

Charmaine Blake



Jack Black, Nick Jonas, Karen Gillan, Dwayne Johnson, and Kevin Hart in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

Image: Sony

It’s a truism that Hollywood has a terrible track record when it comes to video game movies. But it’s not entirely accurate. There are lots of great video game movies out there – they’re just not based on actual video games.

This month, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, joins films like Edge of Tomorrow and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World on the list of excellent films inspired by video games but not directly adapted from one. This one is a loose sequel to 1995’s Jumanji, which reimagines the dangerous board game as a ’90s-era video game.

The game catches the attention of four bored modern-day teenagers stuck in detention. As soon as the kids press play, however, they’re pulled into the world of the game, in the bodies of the avatars they’ve chosen. 

It’s a novel premise for a video game movie – and one that lets Jumanji avoid many of the pitfalls that have trapped so many video game adaptations.

Jumanji breathes personality into archetypal characters

Jack Black plays a teenage girl, and it’s kind of brilliant.

Image: Sony

The first and possibly most important thing that Jumanji adds to the video game movie template are complicated, three-dimensional characters. In games, the heroes are left somewhat blank by design. They might have backstories, stats, and some pre-determined quirks, but it’s up to the players to bring them to life, by injecting their own personas and choices into those avatars. 

Jumanji presents four archetypal avatars – the brawny hero (Dwayne Johnson), the faithful sidekick (Kevin Hart), the kickass hottie (Karen Gillan), and the nerdy professor (Jack Black). But it then rounds them out with the personalities of the four players – a nerd, a jock, an overachiever, and a queen bee, respectively. 

This approach fixes one issue common to video game adaptations – the sense that you’re just watching someone else play a game when you’d rather just play it yourself. 

Since Jumanji invites you to identify with the players, who then pour themselves into their game counterparts, you’re not left struggling to relate to two-dimensional avatars who were never meant to be three-dimensional people. With the players serving as a go-between, you connect to the characters in a way that works for a movie, not a video game.

Jumanji embraces the uncanny unreality of video games

Of course “smoldering intensity” is one of Dwayne Johnson’s strengths.

Image: Sony

That tension we just talked about, between the player and the avatar? Jumanji lives in the friction between those two halves. There are lots of jokes about the bizarreness of becoming someone else, including an uproariously funny scene in which the queen-bee player gets acquainted with her new male anatomy. 

Jumanji additionally takes good-natured jabs at NPCs (their confusing familiarity, their stilted patter), character stats (like seemingly random weaknesses), and cutscenes (what the hell are these out-of-nowhere infodumps?). It pokes fun at the female avatar’s hellaciously impractical costume, and mines surprising pathos from the way time never really seems to move forward in a game.

The film understands what’s so uncanny about video games and embraces those qualities rather than running from them. There, Jumanji has an advantage over most video game adaptations: It’s a comedy, which means it gets plenty of leeway to make fun of itself.

Jumanji gets to build its world (almost) from scratch

Kevin Hart stares down someone even bigger than Dwayne Johnson.

Image: Sony

Then there’s the fact that Jumanji, though it pays homage to video games, isn’t actually beholden to any particular game. There’s no devoted fanbase that might get upset if you overhaul the characters, no intricate mythology that needs to be untangled for general audiences. In that sense, Jumanji functions almost like an original movie, in that it gets to build most of its world from scratch.

With that freedom, Jumanji makes the wise choice to keep the mythos simple. There’s some stuff about an archnemesis, and a prophecy, and a magical MacGuffin that could save the world or destroy it – but the film only tells the audience as much as we need to know to “play” the game (i.e., follow the plot of the movie).

For viewers like me, who struggle to keep up with films that require you to catch up on centuries of fictional history before digging into the main plot, that’s a blessing. (Yes, Warcraft, I was talking about you.) It lowers the barrier of entry. And it means that everyone – know-it-all gamers and clueless newbies alike – get to discover the rules and experience the plot twists together, making for a more inclusive cinematic experience. 

Jumanji knows when to ditch the video-game conceit

Seriously, it’s weird how convincing all of these people are as high school kids.

Image: Sony

That’s important, because for all its video game trappings, Jumanji is a movie first and foremost, and it never forgets that. It may enjoy playing around with game conventions, but it has no problem ditching the ones that don’t work. 

The film largely ditches the cutesy video game gags as it goes on, trusting that we’re more interested in the narrative at that point. It doesn’t mind cheating a bit by including scenes of the villain plotting away, even if they don’t really make sense within a video game framework. (They’re not cutscenes, because the film establishes early on that the players can see cutscenes, whereas they cannot see what the villain is up to.) 

In fact, the whole film is structured less like a game than a movie. It unfolds logically and linearly, and doesn’t meander or repeat itself the way a session of gameplay might. But there, too, Jumanji finds a way to have it both ways, presenting the gradually rising stakes as a nod to the progressively harder “levels” in video games. 

Jumanji understands the appeal of video games

Who wouldn’t want to land a flying kick like that?

Image: SOny

In other words, Jumanji knows that movies and games appeal to audiences in different ways. And yet the reason it’s so successful as a video game movie, specifically, is that it understands why people love games.

Once the characters get past their initial alarm, they start to have some fun with the experience. They delight in accomplishing things they could never dream of IRL, like handling dangerous beasts or punching out baddies or dangling out of helicopters. They experience the thrill of being someone else – someone cooler, smarter, sexier, braver – for a little while. 

While Jumanji isn’t interactive in the way of actual video games, it does its best to simulate that feeling by getting you on the same page with the players at every turn. So when, say, the overlooked nerd starts to relish his new identity as a beefy badass who looks like the Rock, the part of you that identifies with that overlooked nerd enjoys it too.

And when, at one point, a character expresses a desire to stay in the game forever, it’s all too easy to understand what they mean. It’s a childish sentiment, but one that should feel relatable to anyone who’s ever disappeared into a fantasy game world and felt a lurch of disappointment at being pulled back into the real one. 

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New Movie Reviews

‘Incredibles’ is back after 14 years, and it hasn’t missed a step

Charmaine Blake



Elastigirl is the badass star of Incredibles 2.

Image: Disney / Pixar

“In the 14 years since The Incredibles came out, superhero movies have exploded. Circa 2004, we got maybe two a year; in 2018, Incredibles 2 is the third such film within the past two months.

In that context, it’s easy to imagine Incredibles 2 getting swallowed up by the wave, buried under the meta jokes of Deadpool and the ambitious world-building of Marvel. Instead, however, Incredibles 2 rises above it. Here’s how.

The action is, well, incredible

Incredibles 2 opens with a city-destroying battle of good versus evil that’s become a staple of the genre. But Pixar pulls it off with such style and finesse that it retroactively makes the competition look sloppy.

The choreography is sharp and dynamic, playing with each character’s specific strengths and weaknesses. Elastigirl’s bendiness contrasts and complements Mr. Incredible’s brute force, while Dash’s super-speed combines nicely with Violet’s force fields.

Other superhero movies could stand to learn from Incredibles 2.

Image: Disney / Pixar

Meanwhile, the camerawork and dialogue keep our focus on the characters, not just the spectacle. It serves as quick reintroduction to the leads, their personalities, and their relationships, in case your memory’s grown fuzzy after a decade and a half, and underlines why this particular fight is important to them.

It’s like the best of the Avenger-on-Avenger bits from Captain America: Civil War or Avengers: Infinity War – only better, because….”

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‘Ocean’s 8’ is a fizzy good time, and not much more



Round up the gang this one’s a good group hang.

Image: Warner Bros.

“Ocean’s 8 is the LaCroix of movies: It’s sparkly, it’s fizzy, it goes down easy, and there’s not really any there there.

It’s not totally dumb, but nor is it particularly clever. It’s nice enough to look at, thanks to all its glamorous stars and their glitzy costumes, but not especially stylish. 

But just as flavored water can really hit the spot on a hot summer day, so can Ocean’s 8. It’s fun enough to serve as an excuse to chill with some friends, or while away an afternoon in movie theater air-conditioning. 

And for all its shortcomings, it does deliver in some key areas. Here are five reasons to check it out. 

5. The girl-power message, I guess

Ocean’s 8 is for all the little girls out there who want to be jewel thieves when they grow up, or something.

Image: Warner Bros.

The basic premise of Ocean’s 8 is that it’s Ocean’s 11, only with eight women instead of eleven men, and with the Met Gala instead of Las Vegas. In this era of shared universes, of course there’s a narrative link to the earlier films – the ringleader in 8 is Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean, sister of George Clooney’s character from the Steven Soderbergh movies.

The act of recasting what was once a “male” property with female leads still feels like a statement in this day and age – even if it all it’s saying are “women are people, too.” Ocean’s 8 occasionally nods in the direction of feminist messaging, having one leading lady point out to another that women get ignored (a plus, when you’re trying to pull off a heist) and another execute a stunt involving the country’s “Founding Mothers.” 

For the most part, though, Ocean’s 8 lets those themes recede into the background. It doesn’t want to tell you how powerful it can be when women band together in a man’s world – it just wants to show you how fun it’d be to round up a girl gang and steal some jewels. In its own way, that’s kind of empowering, too. 

4. The vivid personalities – and fanfic-worthy pairings

Heck yes, Ocean’s 8, I ship it.


Like any good ensemble caper, Ocean’s 8 establishes a cast of colorful personalities, and spends some time sitting back to see what happens when they mix.

There are a few scenes that seem tailor made to inspire fan fiction.

This particular crew does happen to be starrier than usual. In addition to Bullock, there’s Cate Blanchett as….”

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New Movie Reviews

Reviews are in for ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

Charmaine Blake



“The latest installment of the Jurassic Park series sounds like a palatable film for fans of the series but doesn’t offer up a completely enrapturing experience the whole way through.

Reviewers have weighed in on the upcoming Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the sequel to Jurassic World, and it isn’t getting the most thrilling praise so far. In this movie, a volcano at the Jurassic World theme park has erupted, sending the human protagonists and a handful of dinosaurs away from the island and into normal society which is fine for the humans but not so great for the dinosaurs.

Read on to see what the critics thought of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The visuals don’t disappoint

Matt Chapman, DigitalSpy:

Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) guilts Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) into returning to the island to rescue his beloved raptor Blue, before an out of control volcano kills every living thing. What follows is some of the most beautiful destruction you’ll ever see onscreen, with a few heart-in-mouth moments for our intrepid dino wranglers and their support staff, Daniella Pineda’s spunky scientist Zia and Justice Smith’s jumpy tech guru Franklin.

Gav Murphy, IGN:

If you thought there was going to be too much CGI in Fallen Kingdom, you’re wrong. There’s a surprising amount of practical effects on display – in fact, it’s the first time I’ve felt genuinely disgusted by these creatures. From the flies buzzing around Rexy’s stinking sleeping body to the mucus and phlegm we see, there’s an impressive blend of both CGI and practical effects in use that helps bring us closer to the dinosaurs. This closeness helps us either feel more afraid or in the case of Blue, a dramatic medical treatment scene really highlights the bond that Owen has with her. Practical effects and CGI are merged seamlessly here and we end up with a touching sequence that also draws in video flashbacks of Owen raising Blue which are obscenely cute.

Dinosaurs aren’t the main event

Owen Gleiberman, Variety:

The film provides plenty of encounters with our stomping, gnashing primeval beastly friends — yet for much of Fallen Kingdom, they are caged, shackled, sedated, wounded, and otherwise subdued. They’re right up there on screen, but too often they don’t feel like the main event….”

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