MANILA -- We really should have more Jumanji movies. Here's why.
Arriving in Philippine theaters Monday, the action-adventure film "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" by Jake Kasdan picks up from the original movie starring Robin Williams and gives it an upgrade.
Chris Van Allsburg's story of a haunted gameboard that brings its magical threats to life has always had a timeless appeal that should be easy to translate to movies. In the first Jumanji movie, the threats are more homebound -- Alan Parrish and three friends must fight mischievous monkeys, carnivorous plants and a big game hunter to complete the game and undo its spell on their lives.
In "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle," the game is not stuck on a tabletop; instead of fighting it out on a mansion, four teenagers are sucked into the titular jungle where they become videogame avatars fighting some really scary threats.
This leads to laugh-out-loud moments as the "nerd" character Spencer (Alex Wolff) is transformed into Dwayne Johnson's heroic Dr. Smolder Braveston; the jock character Anthony "Fridge" Johnson (Ser'Darius Blain) becomes Kevin Hart's dimunitive zoologist Franklin "Mouse" Finbar; the wallflower Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner) turns into Karen Gillan's red hot slayer of men Ruby Roundhouse; and finally, the self-absorbed Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman) is transformed into a man - Jack Black's Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon.
A fifth character - Alex Vreeke (Nick Jonas) - is the new Parrish stand-in, stuck in the game for two decades with no hope of getting out.
Together, the new Jumanji players must learn the value of teamwork so that they can finish the game. There's a Nickelodeon movie feel to the proceedings, right down to the first teen characters, except with a bigger budget and brand-name stars.
There is also a twist absent from the first Jumanji - characters are given three lives in the game, die three times and you are "dead" in the real world as well. The action scenes are better executed here but the videogame feel doesn't put the characters in any real danger even against movie villain John Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), a demonic figure who wants to control the Jaguar’s Eye and claim dominion over the land.
What elevates the material from high-budget timewaster to charming diversion is the cast's performances. Johnson's Dr. Bravestone is a badass without any discernible weaknesses except his shyness towards women. Hart does his usual schtick as annoying loudmouth - his death as a result of a weakness to cake is played for laughs. Nick Jonas does his best impression of Shia LaBeouf, while Jack Black plays his/her character as a vapid caricature.
The real MVP here is Gillan, who plays the eye candy Lara Croft-like character Ruby Roundhouse. Aside from kicking butt, Gillan also does two of the funniest scenes in the movie - one, a flirtation scene that's been done a million times in previous movies but still sells laughs, and a kissing scene with Johnson that is hilarious in its awkwardness. Gillan is a cypher in her previous movie role as Nebula in "Guardians of the Galaxy" but her willingness here to go to great lengths for a laugh works like gangbusters.
So is there a space for more Jumanji? You bet. Hollywood may be riding the reboot train till it breaks but this one gets it exactly right - likeable leads, a family-friendly feel, story that doesn't meander, judicious use of CGI and well earned laughs. It's even got a surprise or two, depending on your movie knowledge.
"Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" does not outlast its welcome, which is a good thing. This one is going to have a long shelf life.
Now bring on the Zathura remake.