Set twenty-one years after the first film, Welcome To The Jungle follows four teenagers who are transported into the video game world of Jumanji. Playing as the characters they selected, Spencer (Johnson), Bethany (Black), Fridge (Hart) and Martha (Gillan) must overcome the game's magical power in order to win and return home - or risk being trapped in the game forever. Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan star in Jake Kasdan's latest feature-length entertaining families over the new year.
Welcome To The Jungle is the definition of disposable fun. It entertains and serves it purpose with being particularly memorable; you'll now doubt exclaim - 'ah!' - when you see it being shown on the television in a few years down the line, with fond-ish memories despite struggling to recollect what actually happened along the way. It's cinema at its more nascent, existing for no other reason than to make a studio money and entertain a mainstream, mass audience. The execution is corny and half-baked at times but it didn't need to break barriers to entertain its audience.
The four-person screenplay is cluttered with set pieces that serve their purpose and splash the budget, executed rather well - if a little sporadically. Almost to a fault, it is as self-aware as a film can be without actually obliterating the fourth wall, conducting everything with a somewhat-clumsy but usually funny wink and a nudge. Comedically brash and a little inconsistent, the ideas are mostly exciting; it takes a while for the script to get going, and the first twenty minutes or so caused concern for alarm, but when it snaps out of auto-pilot, energises itself and draws us into the game, it's pretty solid. It becomes too much of a self-parody for my liking but many will surely appreciate that edge. The second act is particularly strong, firing on a number of cylinders and displaying robust and focused filmmaking; it discovers a rhythm that powers it for a good forty-five minutes or so.
Jumanji has been sold through the partnership of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart and while they're solid enough, it is their co-stars - Jack Black and Karen Gillan - who truly shine and benefit from the adventure. Black and Gillan's shared scenes are a particular highlight and while the group dynamic on the whole is enjoyable, Gillan and Black are easy stand-outs. The film owes them a great debt and they provide the audience with some hearty laughs, where as some of Johnson and Hart's gags feel stale the second they're spoken. Nick Jonas is strong in a supporting capacity, providing the film with an emotion that, as forced and predictable as it is, Jonas handles well.
Kasdan's direction is fine, racing through the set pieces and gleefully ticking off the 'blockbuster' checklist; he works to a tried-and-tested formula and it admittedly works for the film, but may leave some - myself included - hoping for more. Some of the special effects are a little ropey but the rumoured $90 million production budget is put to good use otherwise, effectively splashed across the screen. Henry Jackman's suitably intense and playful score is a tremendous addition to the film, working well to emphasise the intensity and comedy when it is required.
If you're after something with depth and complexity, look elsewhere. Jumanji is as deep as a puddle and as complex as a four-piece jigsaw, but constructed as frothy-fun to be had by the whole family, and it achieves its goal with ease. You won't remember much of it and it operates on the most basic level possible but it's an enjoyable - needless but enjoyable - romp nonetheless. While not as good as you may have hoped, it is certainly not as bad as you feared and it finds a happy medium: Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle serves its purpose as peppy, throwaway cinema - and with the box office figures so high, we can expect the drums to bong sooner rather than later.
Summary: As deep as a puddle but no doubt fun, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle is fine, peppy, disposable cinema with a great cast and self-awareness that certifies it as crowd-pleasing family fun.