“What’s that? They’re redoing Jumanji? Pssshhhh… Pass with a capital Piss-on-it.”
When one learns that another classic story would be getting the remake treatment (especially one starring the wonderful, late Robin Williams, which is considered so iconic), the honest question is “How could one not feel this way?”
If we delve deeper into that reaction, I can’t help but wonder a few things. Was it me caving into the internet’s tendency to troll without just cause, or was it because such redoings of past properties just seem to fall flat (Not that I’m saying any names…)? Who knows? That visceral reaction could have just been me being too lazy to give the property its due. Considering what films the end of 2017 would bring us – Star Wars, Justice League, Thor, Murder on the Orient Express, The Disaster Artist, and Downsizing – the season just seemed overly packed with films, and an attempted reawakening of an old property was useful only as a ball that needed to be kicked off the wayside and down the hill into the chasm of bad ideas.
When the trailers for this finally came out, I was taken by surprise. Initially, I thought it was a Black Panther trailer. I mean, really, you see that giant freaking panther mountain thing? That does scream “Black Panther,” doesn’t it? It was a false tease, one done (perhaps. I’m speculating here) with such prestidigitation in mind: “Look, Black Panther! Feel the excitement! Psyche!”
Instead of giving us Chadwick Boseman kicking all kinds of tail in the fictional land of Wakanda, we get The Rock? Jack Black? Kevin Hart? Karen Gillen?
What the hell is this?
The premise, according to the trailer, was that Jumanji, the fabled semi-autonomous game of jungle adventures, had adapted to a more modern setting, and rather than existing as a board game that drew people into a weird adventure of summoned creatures and geo/atmospheric phenomena, it now existed as a video game. But when the four players started the game, instead of summoning strange phenomena into the real world, those four players were sucked into the game, and each one controlled one of the four previously-mentioned actors as avatars. Think World of Warcraft but with full sensory output. What followed was that the nerdy Jewish lead became a mountain of invincible muscle with “smoldering intensity” as one of his strengths; the big, buff jock became the short, whiny Hart, who suffered massive anaphylactic shock after eating cake; the yet-untapped-badassery of the female lead fell into the all-too-revealing Tomb Raider trope clothing set of Gillen; and the vain, self-obsessed Snapchatter girl became… Jack Black?
The whole premise was utterly ridiculous. It was utterly preposterous. I should have thrown my box of popcorn at the screen in rebellion to this zany concept! About the only violence that overtook me was a big, Grinch-like grin that spread across my face. “If they do this right, this movie will bomb. I mean, not bomb, but be the bomb. You know, like blow my mind.”
Not only had they put a trailer together that made the idiocy of a Jumanji retread appear sound, but it actually filled me with exactly what a good trailer should do: interest. It had hooked me in, and by all the gods of my fictional world, Traumanfang, I was going to see it!
I saw it.
As the first movie that I watched from 2018, I’ll admit, it set a pretty high bar for the year.
As some great men have said, “the whole premise was utterly ridiculous” and that is exactly the tone the producers and director Jake Kasdan were going for. Rather than try to make a serious, or truly terrifying adventure, they opted to fully embrace the madness of this world, and of the potential of video game-like avatar exploration.
Role-play time! Imagine: You have your body. The one that you actually have. If you’re like me, there are probably certain aspects of it that you might want to change, right? Now, take your You and toss it into the brick shithouse of a body that Dwayne Johnson has cultivated for himself. What would be the first thing you’d do? Myself? I’d probably poke and prod the various muscles of my body while chuckling like Beavis and Butthead. Then I might go for a forty mile jog just to see if I actually could; or else bench press my Toyota Yaris. Alex Wolff’s Spencer does the muscle thing, and over the course of the rest of the film, enjoys variations of the action. Johnson is delightfully curious in this role, playing the role for laughs with an authenticity that made his Elliot Wilhelm from Be Cool so delightful.
The Rock is only one island of exploration that Jumanji took us through. To contrast the experience, they took Ser’Darius Blain, a ripped, chiseled peak of perfection rocking the bodacious height of 6’4”, and then transmogrified him into the diminutive and not-quite-buff body of Kevin Hart. Hilarity through body shaming followed – a horrid thing to say, but story-wise? Who wouldn’t feel disappointed at such a transition? Major props to Hart for being such a champ in the role. I honestly hope he had fun while making this film, despite the fact that nearly every moment of screen time was devoted to maximizing his weaknesses. I mean, that might give a complex to a lesser individual, but he rocked the role like a champ and provided the first performance where I honestly enjoyed him.
Role play the physical perfection of the stunning Karen Gillen, and one might be too distracted to even walk straight. There are a large number of male gamers who play campaigns through female avatars because they would much rather see beauty as they play, and with this mindset, we might think that Karen’s human host was a young male. Smartly, they opted to steer away from that. Instead, an awkward Morgan Turner, who has never explored the reality of her power, potential, and beauty, is given the badassery of close combat, dance fighting, and mad skills with weaponry. This is a young woman who can hold her own, and I’m actually pleasantly surprised that they didn’t go all gung-ho with her. Gillen is awesome in this role, as the competent yet mildly uncomfortable burgeoning woman who has never really explored herself. Beauty, brutality, and fantastic comic timing. Gillen was utterly wonderful in this role.
So was the other female of the group: Jack Black.
Yup. You read that right.
Jack Black got to play the avatar of a beautiful young woman who has a legion of devoted followers on social media. Vain, self-centered, as superficial as the topmost layer of make-up, Bethany (Madison Iseman), is exactly what one would expect the modern millennial to be. Tossed into the horrifyingly unabashedly wonderfully hideous body of Jack Black, and she is in for a ride. I’m not going to spoil it all for you, but Black utterly rocks this role; if there were any middle-aged men who could channel their inner 17-year-old better, I couldn’t think of any. Best of all is that this is one of his most sensitive roles since he first voiced the lovable panda Poe. Yup. He was that good. Nothing was over-the-top, but instead felt very appropriate to a teenage girl.
Beyond just the physical oddities of their avatars, each one is given powers and abilities that accent or accentuate aspects of the actors or roles. That “smoldering intensity” thing I mentioned previously? Yeah. Anybody other than Dwayne Johnson probably wouldn’t be able to pull it off, but the way it is played, made for some really dope reactions from Black and Gillen. The latter seemed truly shocked to distraction by it, whereas the former channeled some incredible droolage. Taken all together, the four actors played their roles in a way that made for some supreme fun for the audience.
For me, this movie delivered in a way that my skepticism couldn’t even expect. All in all, I was very pleased with the ride of this jungle.
Appropriately enough, the next movie I’ll be seeing in the theater is none other than Black Panther. Cinematically, this is looking up to be a banner year at the movies, indeed.
The Queen has spoken.