The game that haunted Robin Williams as Alan Parrish in 1995 is back, but now the board game takes the form of a video game. It’s the present day and four teenagers – the smart but geeky Spencer (Alex Wolff), football jock ‘Fridge’ (Ser'Darius Blain), the vain and social media-loving Bethany (Madison Iseman) and shy, anti-social Martha (Morgan Turner) – are going through the trials and tribulations of high school. When the four very different students are thrown together into detention, they discover a video game that they decide to try out. After taking up the console and choosing their characters, they find themselves turned into their avatars and sucked into the game.
In spite of the excitement being generated over the 'Jumanji sequel' when it was initially announced, particularly on the part of its star Dwayne Johnson, most of us had our doubts that it was going to work. For 90s kids and admirers of Robin Williams, the original is a fun family adventure and a classic, even if time has been unkind to the CGI effects. Could Johnson and the new cast capture the magic of Williams and co-stars Kirsten Dunst, David Alan Grier and Bonnie Hunt, a chemistry that worked so well, almost by accident? Not really.
Most of you readers will probably have seen a trailer for the film at this point, and it makes clear that most of the film’s humour is derived from the stars that you know and love – Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan – playing teenagers trapped in bodies they’re not used to. Martha is now assassin Ruby Roundhouse, portrayed by Karen Gillan (I’m not going to get too into the whole ‘sexualisation of women via her costume’ debate here but I will say that that’s how many young women in these video games are dressed and I’m giving the movie the benefit of the doubt that they’re consciously commentating on that); the jock has turned into little guy Kevin Hart; the pretty, narcissistic girl becomes Jack Black; and Dwayne Johnson is an insecure nerd? Get outta town!
The film’s sense of humour is quickly derived to be of a very silly, immature nature (think 'Goosebumps' or 'Ghostbusters'), which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a little scary, so as to be exciting rather than frightening for young people, so it should appeal to kids and families on that basis. Frustratingly though, the film’s running length of nearly 2 hours will likely leave everyone restless as it inches towards the finale. Moreover, its 12A cert is problematic for younger kids and there are a few too many penis jokes for a lower age bracket. It’s also worth noting that director Jake Kasdan’s previous works include the likes of 'Bad Teacher' and 'Sex Tape' so it is a bit of an odd choice to be the helmer of a family adventure.
There are some funny quips about the awkwardness of teenagehood and the scenes where Jack Black and Karen Gillan interact as ‘teenage girls’ work well. Black is hands-down the funniest in the whole bunch and, for one of the first times on the big screen, Johnson gets a bit lost among his co-stars. You don’t have to have seen the first to follow it (in fact, fans of the original will likely be unhappy with how, with just one mention of Alan Parrish, the film does not pay tribute to its ‘legacy’ as was previously proposed), but it’s just fine.