Sunday 14 January 2018

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle by McKenna & Sommers et al

I've never seen the 1995 Robin Williams movie Jumanji. It was based on a book by Chris Van Allsburg, who also wrote The Polar Express, and had a trio of screenwriters (plus the book's author) who were credited on the script. One of these, Greg Taylor, also gets a credit on the new movie...

This is a movie I wouldn't even have considered seeing if my friend Celeste hadn't alerted me to it. 

The intriguing aspect of the new film is that it involves a group of teenage kids who end up sucked into a video game in the form of avatars...

So a curly haired wimp Spencer (Alex Wolff) morphs into the Rock — sorry, Dwayne Johnson — and high school jock Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain) is converted to Kevin Hart.

But, best of all, nasty hot girl Bethany (Madison Iseman) becomes a fat, bearded Jack Black and the socially awkward Martha (Morgan Turner) ends up as a Tomb Raider-esque Karen Gillan.

What ensues would just be a routine action fantasy romp, except for this body-swapping aspect. It lifts the movie to a whole other level. 

Jack Black is an absolute scream as the spoiled Bethany ('Where's my phone?') and Karen Gillan is wonderful, pretending to be uncomfortable in her body and not to know how to flirt.

But it all goes deeper than that. When Bethany/Jack Black meets a cute guy and falls for him, it's actually sweet and quite touching. And Karen Gillan's performance is wonderfully subtle and nuanced – I had no idea what a marvellously gifted actress she is.

Whoever dreamt up the avatar device was a genius, because it transforms Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle from a disposable piece of junk to something actually quite memorable. 

It's worth noting that the screenwriting team of Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers worked both on this and Spider-Man: Homecoming, another dumb title with a colon in it, and another unexpectedly good movie.

The other writers credited on this film are Scott Rosenberg & Jeff Pinkner.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle may not be a towering cinematic masterpiece. But it does vastly exceed all expectations.

If you're looking for a movie to take the family to, I recommend it highly.

(Image credits: A dense jungle of posters at good old Imp Awards.)