Look, I’m not mad. I’m not even upset. I’m definitely not surprised. I’m just disappointed. The way the trailers for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle were cut, you could have gotten the impression that these films were going to be big stupid fun, self-aware and campy enough to poke fun at itself, and at video games. Unfortunately, it’s not even smart enough to be entertainingly dumb. The moments when it gets it right are somehow more frustrating when they’re buried in an insultingly bad movie.
The main cast are about as far as the film’s merit stretches. Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black and Kevin Hart are charming enough to carry the worst of the script, and talented enough to make the most of the few genuinely great moments. But it’s a long road to get to them; they’re only video game avatars, after all, and we have to learn about the high school kids playing as those characters!
That’s right, folks: the first half hour of this action adventure movie consists of the most inane, contrived high-school drama you’ve ever seen. It thinks it’s as meaningful and brilliant as The Breakfast Club, but it’s about as well conceived as emo-Peter Parker’s weird chair dance in Spider-Man 3. Every kid is a lazy trope, nothing beyond the character flaw that playing Jumanji is supposed to smooth out; the Instagram-obsessed socialite, the dorky kid who’s apparently a loser (it’s unclear why), his former best friend, now a shallow, popular sports player who can’t do his homework. These are all kind of fine; they’re not, but it’s benign enough to look past. Not the case with Bethany, the try-hard, straight laced girl who can’t relax. She gives a little speech to the gym teacher about how she shouldn’t be wasting her life ‘having fun’ goes far beyond awful, winds its way back to good, but then keeps going and crash lands onto an entire planet of flaming garbage. It hurts me. This film caused me physical anguish.
It doesn’t get much better once we’re in the world of the video game, beyond the improvement in the cast. There are a few points where they almost do something clever with the whole ‘being in a video game schtick’, but aside from a couple of clever action moments and a running gag about the Rock’s ‘smouldering intensity’, they wear thin and go underdeveloped. Why would you bother going through every characters strengths and weaknesses if only half of them are going to be used in the plot anyway? Cake makes one of the characters explode, and that gets a scene, but the Rock’s climbing strength ends up meaning nothing and he just rides a motorbike up a giant mountain.
There’s just so many wrong turns in this movie. Jack Black really sells his role (he’s effectively playing a high school teenager), but the jokes written for him focus heavily on the physical aspects, and entire scenes are devoted to cringe-inducing body humour that should have stayed in Kindergarten. The rest of the characters are barely worth commenting on, even the antagonist, who is very visually interesting (he’s gross and bugs come out of his mouth), is only on screen for about thirty seconds.
The whole film just feels tired. And I am now tired of talking about it. It’s not worth your money. Jack Black is in School of Rock. Karen Gillan is in Guardians of the Galaxy. The Rock’s even in Moana! Watch those instead, because this is everything that could possibly have gone wrong with the movie, stood up next a few moments that aren’t quite so bad, just to really rub it in.