Movie review: ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ a surprisingly fun action comedy

As a kid, I remember watching the original “Jumanji” for the first time at a friend’s slumber party. I was awed (and a bit terrified) of this tale about a cursed board game that comes to life and causes dangerous events to happen in the real world — like carnivorous plants and stampeding animals.

It’s probably been about 15+ years since I last watched this movie, so I can’t really comment on how well it has held up over time, but I do have fond memories of it. Initially I didn’t think releasing a sequel more than 20 years later (wow, I feel old now) was that great of an idea, especially since the sequel updates the original “Jumanji” board game to a video game.

However, the trailers for the sequel, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” always made me laugh when I saw them in the theater before watching other films, so when this movie scored 77 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, I thought “why not?” I went to see it on a cold, lazy afternoon and ended up really enjoying myself. “Welcome to the Jungle” turns out to be a surprisingly fun action comedy with some entertaining performances and genuine laughs.

As I mentioned before, turning the “Jumanji” board game into a video game originally seemed like a gimmick but actually works quite well in the film. Instead of the board game leaking into the real world, four kids are transported into the world of “Jumanji” via a video game. Not only does this prevent the movie from feeling like a rehash of the original, it provides some great comedy moments as four adult actors — Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan — play video game avatars of four teenagers. They all have to learn how to cooperate and beat the game together in order to get back to the real world, or they’ll be stuck in “Jumanji” forever…or worse.

Watching Johnson, Black, Hart, and Gillan pretend to be teenagers pretending to be characters in the video game was my favorite part of the film. I thought Johnson and Black did particularly well. The impossibly buff Johnson ends up being the avatar for gamer Spencer Gilpin, who overcomes his insecurities and gains confidence in real life after the game is over. And Black was really hilarious as the avatar of a spoiled, self-absorbed girl who thinks more about her next Instagram post than other people.

I would tag this as a spoiler, but you already know going in that the characters will all end up bonding with each other (despite not getting along that well initially) and they learn a lesson about appreciating each other and their differences. Yes, it might be a little cliché, but in a world where bullying and unfairly ostracizing people into groups is a real problem, I liked this film’s message that every person deserves to be valued, and everybody has strengths that are worthy of respect. For me, the message was a welcome one and didn’t feel too heavy-handed.

I actually don’t have a whole lot else to say about this film. The action sequences were good, and I laughed plenty of times throughout, thanks to the great chemistry amongst the cast. To be fair, it’s not a ground-breaking film and didn’t knock any films off my “best of 2017” list. Will people still be talking about it at this time next year? Maybe, maybe not. However, it was a lot of fun and is definitely worth catching as a matinee. It cheered up my post-holiday “blahs,” and I’m planning to watch it again on DVD.

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