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Movie Review: "Jumanji" Rebootquel is Nostalgic Fun With a Twist

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale
Based on Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Screenplay by Chris McKenna, Eric Sommers, Jake Kasdan, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner
Directed by Jake Kasdan

Out of Four

Joe Johnston's 1995 fantasy Jumanji was a pleasant surprise for that holds a great deal of setimental value, so when we heard that a remake was in developement, we weren't excited. Plain and simple, remaking a Robin Williams movie is one of the worst things Hollywood can do this decade, and while he can be fun in the right role, Dwayne Johnson is no Robin Williams. And when we heard the premise: A group of teenagers get sucked into a role-playing video game version in the bodies of their characters, we were torn between disappointment that it would ruin the similar screenplay we wrote 9 years ago for a Dungeons & Dragons based comedy/fantasy, and the fact that clearly we thought it was a solid premise, and a potentially great way to revisit the Jumanji concept. Add to that the fact that it was revealed that this was a Jurassic World style soft reboot style sequel instead of a straight-up remake, and we became much more optimistic. Still, replacing Robin Williams with The Rock? Happily, seeing the movie made us change our minds about that, too.

Image Courtesy Universal Pictures
For the second holiday season in a row, we find ourselves delighted by a Dwayne Johnson performance (after 2016's Moana.). Johnson takes a break from his macho-man persona to wonderfully portray Spencer, the geeky protagnist (played by Alex Wolff in the "real world" wrap around segments.). Spencer is stuck inside the body of Somlder Bravestone, interpid explorer, and it would have been easy enough to just that that character kick in instead of sticking to the gawky teen inside him.  It's genuinely surprising how believable and lovable Johnson is playing the nerdy kid, and we've never seen him carry a film this well. Perhaps even more surprisingly, we genuinely enjoyed Kevin Hart (a comic phenomenon we generally don't get) as his diminutive sidekick "Mouse Finbar (a jock named "Fridge" and played by Ser'Darius Blaine.). Doctor Who star Karen Gillan gets her best Hollywood role to date, having a chance to show off what a strong comic talent she is (her young counterpart Morgan Turner is also very likeable.). And Jack Black shines in a role that could have easily just been obnoxious (Bethany, the token popular hot blonde girl every teen comedy seems to need, played by Morgan Iseman.). The character is actually funnier than we expected, and certainly a lot more endearing. And the character relationship between Bethany and Martha, the other girl in the group, is sweet, genuine and very well played by Black and Gillan.

Image Courtesy Universal Pictures
If there is a particularly weak character, it's the antagonist, Van Pelt (Bobby Canavale), who who is completely one note. Then again, he's an NPC video game villain and not meant to be anything more, so that's hard to hold against it. The credited screenwriters include Spider-Man: Homecoming's Chris McKenna and Eric Sommersand their knack for writing John Hughes style teens is clearly a strength. Director Jake Kasdan handles both the action and the comedy well, and the film movies at a fast pace that consistently entertains, and there are some very successful set-pieces. Kasdan has made a film that brings back happy memories of its predecessor while genuinely doing something new with the material. The movie is light as a feather and aims to be nothing more than popcorn entertainment, but it succeeds well enough on that level that it's hard not to feel satisfied. It has less story than the original, but with that comes arguably less story problems as well. It's not a great film, but it's definitely one of the better blockbusters of the 2017 holiday season, and one Jumanji fans won't want to miss.

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