JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE
The new version comes from Jake Kasdan. Kasdan is the son of director-writer Lawrence Kasdan, known for his screenplays for The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and as director of films like The Big Chill (1983), Silverado (1985) and Dreamcatcher (2003). Jake has maintained a modest career as a director of mainstream comedies with the likes of Zero Effect (1998), Orange County (2002), Bad Teacher (2011) and Sex Tape (2014), as well as wrote the script for Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007).
You are not entirely sure if Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is intended as a remake or a sequel to Jumanji. There are direct continuity points to the original such as reference made to Alan Parrish and an opening scene that follows on from the epilogue to the first film with the boardgame being found by children on a beach. Equally, the premise can be considered a reimagining of the first film in the original, Jumanji was a boardgame, whereas here that has morphed into a videogame that sucks the players into a game realm.
This spells the difference between the two versions of the story. Jumanji had the appealing notion of a regular everyday American smalltown having its normalcy overturned by eruptions of the jungle phenomena of elephant stampedes through the main street, rhinos bursting into the house. monkeys running amok in department stores and so forth. By contrast, it feels like this is an idea that is too banal for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and it instead transports its players inside the game. This to me is a far less interesting concept. It makes Welcome to the Jungle into no more than another trapped in a videogame film a la the likes of Tron (1982), Arcade (1994), Brainscan (1994) or Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003). It becomes just a regular adventure with the heroic characters having to overcome a series of obstacles and perils as opposed to an everyday world being overturned by random eruptions of the bizarre.
To its credit, Welcome to the Jungle has fun parodying the meta-concept of being inside a game with the characters and their skill levels, their lives and the NPCs. On the other hand, Jake Kasdan does little to light up any of the action/adventure set-pieces. These seem about as generic and processed as they can get. The original had great fun scenes with animal stampedes and monsoons abruptly invading the everyday. Here there seems a distinct comedown watching the characters run through the jungle pursued by heavies on motorcycles (something that seems a banal letdown on the jungle theme). The climactic scene with Dwayne Johnson scaling the mountainside on a motorcycle fighting off animals and swinging about on a rope to catch a falling Karen Gillan seems about as canned and delivered-by-autopilot an action scene as I have seen in a major motion picture.
On the other hand, Jake Kasdans unexpected forte proves to be his character ensemble. The quirkily appealing notion of the film is that each of the avatar bodies that the teenagers inhabits is at direct oppose of their real world identity nerdy Alex Wolff becomes larger-than-life hero Dwayne Johnson (who actually gives more of a performance than I have seen him do in any other film, having hilarious fun mocking the nerdiness of his character); jock SerDarius Blain becomes whiny diminutive sidekick Kevin Hart; self-absorbed Madison Iseman is incarnated as middle-aged Jack Black; while shy girl Morgan Turner becomes Karen Gillan (who has been modelled on Lara Croft). The characters have an enormous degree of fun playing off each other with Jack Black having the greatest amount of fun one has seen him do in a role in some time the scenes where he attempts to teach Karen Gillan how to flirt and her attempts to act these out are side-splitting.