★★★★ - THE DOMINION POST
- Remake, sequel, reboot, reimagining – call it what you will – this return to the world of Chris Van Allsburg's much-loved 1981 picture book is actually better than anyone could have hoped.
Director Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard, Bad Teacher) and a quartet of other writers have done a fabulous job of dusting off the board-game-comes-to-life conceit for the gaming generations.
Still set in Bratford, New Hampshire, this version sees a quartet of disparate teens embark on exciting and potentially life-threatening adventure when they are sucked into a 20-year-old video game.
In a contrivance straight out of the John Hughes-playbook (Breakfast Club anyone?) stressed out Spencer (Alex Wolff), football jock Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), self-obsessed Brittany (Madison Iseman) and strident Martha (Morgan Turner) have wound up in detention together.
Naturally removing staples from magazines doesn't hold much interest for any of them and so when Fridge discovers a dusty old console in the corner, there's no way they're not going to plug it in.
It's then though that things suddenly become very surreal as they're transported to the troubled land of Jumanji and find themselves trapped in their avatars. Spencer is transformed into Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge shrinks into the form of zoologist Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha is make-overed into dance fighting specialist Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and, much to her initial horror, Bethany becomes the fuller-figured Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black). Now, it's not high school cliques or unspoken teenage laws that apply, it's video game rules all the way and the odds are firmly stacked against them.
From an early truly shocking moment involving a hippo (which should make parents of those under-eight think twice about letting them see this film) to the rousing, crowd-pleasing Great Escape-inspired finale, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is full of inspired moments, great gags and a quartet of terrific performances.
Central Intelligence proved what a great little-and-large combo the charismatic Johnson and motor-mouthed Hart could be and Jungle builds on that, particularly as their avatar characters are the opposite of their teen counterparts. Black locates his inner-Instagram queen and comes up with his best turn in years, while formerDoctor Who companion Gillan finally gets the scene-stealing role her undoubted comedic talents deserve. Managing to overcome a cringy Tomb Raider-esque outfit, she shines as the reluctant ass-kicking heroine
If there's a weak link, it's Hollywood action's 2017 bete noir – the villain (yes, The Mummy, Justice League, even Wonder Woman, you know I'm talking about you). Bobby Cannavale's bug-infested bad guy (a idea stolen from James Gunn's 2006 cult classic Slither) simply doesn't compare to any of the CGI animals in terms of screen presence or fear factor.
Fortunately, with Johnson on fine form and Kasdan never letting the pace or gags flag, you hardly miss the menace.
A rare, long-gestating follow-up that actually improves on the original.
- JAMES CROOT