Jumangi: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
Director: Jake Kasdan
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart
Synopsis: Four teenagers discover an old video game console and are literally drawn into the game's jungle setting, become the adult avatars they choose.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for adventure action, suggestive content and some language)
Release Date: December 20, 2017
Anyone who has ever played a video game has no doubt dreamed of the opportunity to not just play the game, but live it and experience it. In the constantly evolving tech world, video game creators and manufactures are constantly trying to figure out ways to make the games more visceral, exciting, and real for players. Virtual reality may be the ticket for this kind of experience in the future years.
Jumangi: Welcome to the Jungle is a standalone sequel to the Robin Williams vehicle Jumangi (Joe Johnston, 1995). This time, four struggling teenagers who meet in detention (Breakfast Club anyone?) are accidentally whirled into the video game when they attempt to play it after discovering the console while cleaning out their school's basement. The teenagers, now in the bodies of their selected avatars (Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black) awaken in the world of Jumangi with only three lives, with the goal to return a stolen jewel to the top of a jaguar statue in order to escape the game and return to the real world.
Welcome to the Jungle offers an exciting--even enthralling jungle setting (filmed in Hawaii) that was lacking in the original film and a Jurassic Park-esque feel, as the villain in the film is able to control Jumangi's animals to hunt the players throughout the game. That being said, the film is so lighthearted and concentrated on being funny that there is very little suspense or genuinely scary scenes, and the computer generated animals are subpar creations with graphics you'd expect to see from, well, a video game (maybe that was the point?).
The laughs come in swiftly, with the best ones coming from Jack Black's character Bethany Walker, a self-absorbed teenage girl. The others mostly come from Spencer (Dwayne Johnson) and Anthony "Fridge" Johnson's (Kevin Hart) relationship, where physical size advantage and power levels come into play. Overall, most of the laughs land, but some suffer at the writer's attempt to make the film too funny at the expense of the more serious moments.
While the film does have its funny moments, its strongest elements are its themes, which revolve around the lives the players get in the game. Once the players get down to their last life, the stakes surge, as players that lose all their lives perish in the game and never return to the real world. Viewers watching the film are forced to reflect on how their life isn't like a video game--you don't get three chances to make your life good or satisfying, and physical death is always a breath away--there are no second or third chances. Each of the characters also grow emotionally and intellectually through their experiences in the game, and the film ends in much the same fashion as this year's earlier hit horror film It (Andy Muschietti, 2017), with each of the characters having conquered personal fears and becoming their own friend group.
While Jumangi: Welcome to the Jungle suffers a bit from trying too hard to amuse audiences, it does incorporate some excellent themes about the importance of our life and the choices we make, while also (like It) commenting on the significance of conquering our personal fears when it comes to relationships or the fear of death.