269. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle


In a moldy dingbat apartment near the freeways and vomit-soaked sidewalks of East Hollywood, a struggling Hollywood writer just made the final touches on his masterpiece script: “Teen Jungle Sex Party.” His story about high schoolers occupying the bodies of adult jungle explorers is a laugh riot, PG enough for the younger crowd, with enough R-rated winks and nudges to entice the adults. An agent comes cross the script and suggests to rework it as a “Jumanji” sequel, arguing that both stories have animals and are essentially the same thing. The writer is wary of doing so, but also knows that his rent check is about to bounce if he doesn’t get cash, so he agrees. Welcome to the jungle, baby.

This sequel is so-far removed from the tone, genre and storytelling universe of the first “Jumanji” that it’s almost an insult to the legacy of Robin Williams and everyone involved in the 1996 kids film. It’s like if a sequel to “Scream” was a musical instead of a horror flick, or if they made a sequel to “Men in Black” that was serious romantic thriller. “Jumanji” isn’t a classic 90s kids film in the sense of “Hook” or “The Sandlot,” you’ll never  meet a millennial whose favorite film is “Jumanji.” But the movie is popular enough that anyone who was alive in 1996 would be willing to watch it. It’s not a beloved cinematic legacy but it is still a legacy, and “Jumanji 2” goes ahead and shits all over that. It does not take itself seriously, it is not nuanced and it is ridden with plot holes.

But, if you can watch this movie without thinking of it as a “Jumanji” movie and just “Teen Jungle Sex Party,” you’ll  have a lot of fun. We start off with four teens who embody your typical high school stereotypes. Spencer is nerdy, Fridge is athletic, Martha is awkward and Bethany is popular. They all get into detention where they play the Jumanji video game and get zapped into its world. Now, Spencer is an athletic Dwayne Johnson, Fridge is a short Kevin Hart, Martha is beautiful Karen Gillan and Bethany is, well, Jack Black.

99% of the humor from the movie comes from the four “exploring” their new bodies, acting out common teenage social tropes. Seeing Jack Black fawn over Johnson’s physique is 100% predictable and still 100% hilarious. Or watching Jack Black teach Martha how to flirt and seduce guys is a riot. If you haven’t guessed yet, Jack Black is crucial to the comedic makeup of the film.

“Jumanji 2” does employ the concept of a video game universe in clever ways, with each character having three lives before they parish, even in the real world. Non-player characters, or NPCS, are employed pretty imaginatively, with our heroes meeting characters who can only say one or two lines. But even as the movie emphasizes the importance of these plot elements, it just gets muted as over the deafening laughter from Jack Black genderbending jokes.

You could miss the entire opening act, the ending, and about a 1/3rd of the jungle story and still get a hefty amount of enjoyment from “Jumanji 2.” It’s has a firm grasp on its audience and what its own personality, it’s not overly funny or overly action-packed, but well balanced. Outside of the board/video game itself, there is one reference to the original film. Spending too much time thinking about that reference will anger you, another case of Hollywood mutating stories from their original properties just to make cash. But if you just ignore that like I did, you’ll be happy you took this jungle cruise with Dwayne Johnson. Hey wait a minute…

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