This review for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is spoiler-free.
Jumanji, the 1995 fantasy adventure featuring the world’s deadliest board game, was not—on the surface—a movie clamoring for a sequel. It’s a crowd-pleaser (one that made a bunch of money at the box office) that later became a frequent TV presence. Yet the announcement of another Jumanji movie still invoked an air of “is nothing sacred” from fans and casual viewers.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has enough subtle ties to connect to its predecessor without stampeding on the original like one of the game’s elephants. It’s a perfectly entertaining film that excels on the charm of its cast, but it’s sometimes weighed down by its own exposition and doesn’t leave much of a mark.
Yes, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a proper sequel. While its start is nearly a direct continuation from the 1995 movie with a nod to the character Robin Williams portrayed, Welcome to the Jungle functions largely within its own, often virtual world. Instead of a board game, Jumanji is now a video game, having transformed itself so it can entice a new generation of players. This time around, it’s a group of high schoolers (a la Breakfast Club) who discover Jumanji in an old console while stuck in detention. After they turn the game on and pick their avatars, they’re sucked directly into the game.
Spencer (Alex Wolff), a knowledgeable and awkward gamer, becomes Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson), a muscular archaeologist who has literally no weaknesses. Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) is the jock who turns into Franklin “Moose” Finbar (Kevin Hart), a zoologist and sidekick. Popular and image-obsessed Bethany (Madison Iseman) is now Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), a middle-aged cartographer with no cellphone. And Martha (Morgan Turner), a shy geek with her eyes set on Princeton, is now Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a skilled fighter who is instantly pissed about the outfit her avatar is wearing.
That outfit drew immediate backlash last year after Hart posted a photo of the cast together on social media—contrasting with the layers of clothes Gillan’s co-stars wore—with critics decreeing the out to be sexist. It’s reminiscent of the original Tomb Raider game, and considering how long the Jumanji game has probably been sitting around and collecting dust the connection is probably intentional, although it’s probably not an explanation that will sit with everyone. (And unlike other games that feature a scantily clad female character, one of the other characters eventually gives Martha a jacket to wear.)
The game itself, which the kids have to complete before they can exit, is pretty simple. The characters need to return a stolen gem to its original resting place to cure Jumanji (the place) of a curse. Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale with a much different look than the character in the 1995 film with the same name) is trying to hunt them down for the jewel. All of that—and other gaming concepts including the concept of non-playable characters (NPCs), cutscenes, a listing of each character’s strengths and weakness, and how their lives in the game work—are all explained with some tongue-in-cheek nods to a bunch of video game tropes. Even the names are on the cheesy side.
The cast holds the film together and tells a coherent character story through sheer charm (and maybe a smolder or two). Each character is given moments to shine and grow, but Black—whose performance could’ve easily leaned completely on caricature—stands out, as does his rapport with Gillan’s Martha. There’s plenty of humor in the growing pains of testing the limits of their video game characters, in some of their characters’ deaths, and attempts to dupe henchmen who aren’t programmed to fight sentient video game characters.
Some of the film’s better moments are tucked between action and fight sequences, as several characters face the baggage that led them to Jumanji or awaits them once they make it out. The avatars may be archetypes, but the characters expand enough to avoid that trap.
Jumanji as a game isn’t complicated, and neither are many of the NPCs (non-player characters) Spencer, Fridge, Bethany, and Martha encounter through the game. The bazaar is little more than a backdrop for a level and otherwise, Jumanji looks nearly uninhabited. For all of its vast and beautiful landscapes, Jumanji feels very closed off as a place compared to the havoc the creatures and the original Van Pelt were able to cause in the 1995 movie. This version of Van Pelt, who can control animals and occasionally has insects crawl out of his ears, is forgettable, and the mission and levels themselves are rather flimsy. The threat and the stakes never feel real.
Did we really need a Jumanji sequel? Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle remixes the Jumanji game and offers a fun story—one that doesn’t solely rely on its own nostalgia. But I’m not exactly sure it adds anything beyond being a worthwhile distraction from holiday mayhem.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle debuts in theaters nationwide Dec. 20, 2017.
Captive State review ambitious sci-fi thriller offers up uneven intrigue
“A jumble of themes and ideas jostle for space in an audacious, but often messy, film that takes a familiar alien invasion set-up and goes for broke
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Buried somewhere underneath the wreckage, theres a smart little sci-fi film pulsing at the centre of Captive State, a scrappy, unwieldy curio with plenty on its mind, coherence not necessarily included. Shot over two years ago and pushed around the release schedule, its a troubled project that feels troubled, with confused editing and clear structural issues clueing us in on its difficult journey to the screen. Its a frustrating experience but one that remains worthwhile because theres just enough of a glimmer of the film it could have been to make it worth watching the film it turned into instead.
Were presented with a familiar set-up: aliens have invaded Earth leading to destruction, division and plenty of dust. But unlike the majority of similar films that have come before, were then presented with an idea of what comes after. What if aliens stuck around? What if an uneasy arrangement was made with Earths governing bodies? And what if the invaders were now seen as the main legislative force whose presence had actually led to a statistically safer society? Its a fascinating conceit and one that raises a string of intriguing questions, some of which the film answers with skill.
Pitched somewhere between District 9 and The Purge, writer-director Rupert Wyatt, whose 2011 prequel Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprisingly urgent and necessary blockbuster, focuses the action on Chicago and how the new world order affects a city already struggling with crime and economic disparity. His lead is Gabriel, played by Moonlights Ashton Sanders, existing in one of the poorer districts and working in a factory tasked with wiping data from digital devices, which have been outlawed. His brother Rafe (Jonathan Majors, a rising star after his charming turn in Sundance darling The Last Black Man in San Francisco) was leading a resistance against the state but after his death, Gabriel finds himself scrambling for an escape………………………………………………………………”
Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ demands to be watched and watched again
There’s a reason this lady has an Oscar.
“When the credits rolled on Us, I realized I needed a minute.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the film – quite the opposite. It was that the film, written and directed by Jordan Peele, is so rich, so layered, so diabolically clever and emotionally astute, that it felt an enormous undertaking to process in a single sitting.
Several hours and many conversations later, I’m still convinced this film has secrets I haven’t uncovered yet, and I’m just eager for my next chance to go digging through it again.
Which is not to say it’s without surface-level pleasures. Moment to moment, Us is a film designed to make you react – to get you to giggle at Winston Duke’s extreme dad-ness (“You don’t need the internet. You have the outernet!” he tells his exasperated teenage daughter), or scream at a villain silently materializing in the corner of a frame. And it shapeshifts so frequently, and so deftly, that it’s a fool’s errand to guess at any moment what might happen next.
But it quickly becomes obvious that Us has a lot more on its mind than making you jump. Every detail here seems carefully considered, down to the amount of dust gathered on a coffee table in a rarely used living room. In the hands of a filmmaker this precise, much of the fun is in waiting to see just how his intricate puzzle will come together.
Duke, Lupita Nyong’o, Shahadi Wright Joseph, and Evan Alex are instantly winning as the Wilson family, whose beach vacation is cruelly interrupted by funhouse-mirror versions of themselves. These strangers – clad in blood-red jumpsuits and armed with gleaming gold scissors – are hell-bent not just on killing them, but on explaining exactly why they’re doing so…………………………………………………………..”
Fighting With My Family review, Stephen Merchant has all the right moves
The writer-directors story of a British female wrestler striving to make it big in the US winningly balances oddball humour with affection for the antics of the WWE
“These are big movies, insists Michael Lerners studio boss in the Coen brothers 1991 hit Barton Fink, about big men in tights, both physically and mentally! Hes trying to explain to John Turturros angsty writer the inherent parameters of a wrestling movie, insisting: We dont put Wally Beery in a fruity movie about suffering. Yet just as William Faulkner reportedly did uncredited rewrites on Beerys 1932 picture Flesh, so writer-director Stephen Merchant here manages to subvert the genre and inject some of that Barton Fink feeling into this uplifting romp. Inspired by Max Fishers similarly titled Channel 4 documentary about a Norwich wrestling clan, Fighting With My Family is a hugely likable underdog tale, packing plenty of crowd-pleasing comedy wallop, and boasting a smack-down turn from the indomitable Florence Pugh.
Building on her brilliantly modulated performances in Carol Morleys The Falling and William Oldroyds Lady Macbeth, Pugh gets physical as Saraya (AKA Britani), punchy daughter of wrestlers………………………………………………………..”
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