Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Written by: Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinker, Scott Rosenburg
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner
One of the biggest transitions in life occurs when someone goes from high school to college, as it opens up an entire world of responsibilities and removes many of the safety guards that life afforded. That transition may be easier or more difficult depending on where the person comes from but the best thing to have through it all remains the support from friends and family as shown in the next level of this franchise.
Suffering from depression for not having made meaningful connections in college, Spencer (Alex Wolff) goes back home where he’ll be reunited with his friends from high school. When he returns he sees that his grandfather (Danny DeVito) will be staying in his room as he recovers from surgery. Unsure of his confidence, Spencer decides to re-enter the game of Jumanji to gain the confidence he once had when he controlled the Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) avatar. His friends investigate and realize he entered the game and they decide to follow him in, as the game also pulls in Spencer’s grandfather and his long lost friend.
The arrival of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle to theaters in 2017 was met with skepticism by me, as a fan of the original 1995 film. Fortunately, the film pleasantly surprised me with how it interpreted the idea of the game and gave it a 21st-century spin. Following up on that idea results in a film that does not reach the heights of Welcome to the Jungle but still provides plenty of laughs with mixing up the avatars and the addition of other characters.
Those new additions to the cast include Danny DeVito and Danny Glover with the former portraying Spencer’s grandfather and the latter being his old friend. They have a rift between them because of a business they once held together and a pain that has not been mended. They jump into the avatars of Dwayne Jonson and Kevin Hart and the results are a bit mixed. Dwayne Johnson sure tries his best to sound like DeVito and Keven Hart knocks it out of the park sounding like Glover. Hart brilliantly utilized all of the pausing and slower speech speed to convey being an older man and it almost felt like Danny Glover dubbed the voice work. On the other hand, Dwayne Johnson did not stick the landing on that DeVito accent and it became quite distracting. Awkwafina also joined the group as another avatar used in the game and injected her brand of humor, which will always be appreciated by me.
Mixing up the character and avatar pairings from the first one added a freshness to the plotline even though the original pairings were perfection. It provided each person to take on different skills and weaknesses. Additionally, it allowed the avatar characters the ability to take on other people. It added to the comedy of the film, which made it so fun to watch, even with the issues it has.
One of those issues being how it handles the depression held by Spencer. Now, with a film like this, I’m not expecting some deep dive into his depression but to just glance over the issue and not address it in any meaningful way seems a bit weak. Especially considering this to be an issue for many students that go through this transition, there could have been a more open and better dialogue about his struggles. I did not happen but still stands as a missed opportunity.
Everything else in the film showed some retread from Welcome to the Jungle but slightly reinvigorated it to tell a new story. That includes new enemies and obstacles with the same stakes of being stuck in the game if you die more than three times. The core group comes together nicely once again and they re-spark that chemistry that worked so well in the first film. Jack Black once again stands out as the MVP showing his magical comedy skills and being able to be an avatar for multiple characters. Not much substance to the film, but nonetheless it became a rapturously good time and it accomplishes what it wanted to do.