‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ review

A recycled story can't dim the sheer star power in the new 'Jumanji'

Can a cast of popular actors help a sequel 22 years in the making live up to the legacy of the original film? Read on for our Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle review!

Back in 1995, the original Jumanji gave audiences a thrilling, family-friendly adventure featuring a pair of orphaned siblings whose lives are upended when a mysterious board game brings all the wonder and danger of a fantastic jungle to life in their New Hampshire town. Celebrated director Joe Johnston packed heart, excitement, and laughs into the film, which also featured the late Robin Williams in one of his many memorable performances.

More than two decades later, Bad Teacher and Sex Tape director Jake Kasdan brings the story of that iconic game back to the big screen in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a sequel to the 1995 film that gives it a contemporary update, more mature themes, and a cast of familiar faces. Although it doesn’t quite capture the same sense of wonder and suspense that fueled the first film, Welcome to the Jungle still manages to offer an entertaining adventure — primarily due to its charismatic, talented stars.

The film’s accomplished quartet play off one another expertly and make the scenes they share more entertaining together.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson headlines a cast in Welcome to the Jungle that also features Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Guardians of the Galaxy actress Karen Gillan. The actors portray a quartet of colorful game avatars inhabited by four high-school students who discover a dusty old copy of Jumanji — now in video game form — while stuck in detention together. Tasked with returning a magical jewel to the massive stone idol it was stolen from, the teenagers must learn to work together using the strengths and weaknesses inherent to their in-game avatars in order to return to the real world.

The film’s accomplished quartet of camera-friendly actors are more than capable of carrying a film individually, but instead of stepping on each other’s toes in Welcome to the Jungle, they play off one another expertly and make the scenes they share more entertaining together. Johnson and Hart’s chemistry was already a known commodity thanks to last year’s Central Intelligence, but the addition of comedy veteran Black, as well as Gillan — who’s shown a knack for comedic timing in the Guardians films, as well as several seasons of Doctor Who — makes a funny cast considerably funnier.

Along similar lines, while Johnson’s action chops are well established, anyone unfamiliar with Gillan’s ability to kick ample amounts of on-screen butt will get well-acquainted with this fact over the course of Welcome to the Jungle. Holding her own in both the action and comedy scenes along the likes of such heavyweights (literally and figuratively) in both genres, Gillan just might be the film’s best-kept secret and its most pleasant surprise.

Excellent performances aside, there’s still quite a bit that separates the 2017 version of Jumanji from its predecessor, and the success of the film will likely depend on how audiences respond to those key differences (or how prepared they are for those differences).

Where the 1995 film featured a pair of young children dealing with dangerous elements brought into their world by the magic board game, the sequel pits the various threats posed by the game against teenage players. That change in age shifts the comedy of the film — and its entire tone, really — away from the childhood innocence of the original film and into the realm of rampant genital jokes and raging hormones. This change is reflected in the more restricted PG-13 rating for Welcome to the Jungle (the original Jumanji carried a more family-friendly PG rating), but it might be an unwelcome surprise for audiences expecting another all-ages adventure.

With the exception of Flight of the Conchords actor Rhys Darby, who plays the group’s initial guide to the world of Jumanji, the supporting cast of Welcome to the Jungle also leaves a bit to be desired. Boardwalk Empire actor Bobby Cannavale is a relatively forgettable villain with ill-defined magical abilities, and musician-turned-actor Nick Jonas doesn’t throw himself into his role as another teenage player stuck in the game with nearly as much gusto as his co-stars.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle' review

The film’s sequel status also works against it at times, as it eliminates some of the surprises that made the first film so entertaining. Newcomers to the franchise will likely have a stronger reaction to the characters facing an unexpected hippo attack or rhino stampede than those familiar with the original film, which first introduced many of the plot points recycled for Welcome to the Jungle.

What it lacks in fresh storytelling elements it makes up for with a talented cast of actors.

As far as sequels go, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a fun follow-up to the 1995 film that borrows from its predecessor without going the wholesale remake route. What it lacks in fresh storytelling elements or a sense of genuine wonder, it makes up for with a talented cast of actors who never cease to hold your attention, whether they’re cracking jokes or battling bad guys.

Audiences looking for a relatively inoffensive, thoroughly entertaining adventure at the movies could do far worse than Welcome to the Jungle, and in offering that sort of unabashedly escapist experience, the Jumanji sequel channels one of the most important elements of the original 1995 film that inspired it.

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