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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (2017)

Nobody was asking for a Jumanji sequel. The first Jumanji, released in 1995, was a relatively unremarkable affair despite featuring an excellent performance by Robin Williams as Alan Parrish. I never particularly wanted to see a sequel to it, and if it wasn't for Karen Gillan's casting I doubt I would have seen this film at the cinema. So as you can imagine, I was pleasantly surprised when I found Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle to be more than just Amy Pond 'dance-fighting' video game henchmen in a revealing Tomb Raider-style outfit.

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle begins exactly where the previous movie left off. In 1996, teenage gamer Alex (Mason Guccione) discovers the Jumanji board game washed up on the beach and upon arriving home chucks it to one side claiming 'nobody plays board games anymore'. Upon seeing Alex playing a video game, Jumanji transforms into a game cartridge. Twenty years later, teenage school kids Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), Spencer (Alex Wolff), Bethany (Madison Iseman) and Martha (Morgan Turner) all find themselves in detention tasked with clearing out an old room in the school, where they find an old video game console and the Jumanji cartridge. The gang decide to play the game, and they are sucked into their avatar counterparts in the Jumanji world. Nerdy Spencer becomes the tough Smoulder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), the tall and butch Fridge becomes Smoulder's tiny and useless sidekick Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), awkward book worm Martha (Morgan Turner) is the sexy badass Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and the self-absorbed Bethany finds herself in the esteemed academic Professor Shelby Oberon (Jack Black)'s body. The group are tasked with returning a magical green gem to its place in the eye of a stone jaguar, but the journey won't be easy: videogame villain Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) also wants the gem, and with his ability to control the animals of the Jumanji jungle kingdom he will use any means necessary to take it from the group.

The film starts off weak with scenes set at the teenagers' school, which largely feel cliche and derivative of other movies featuring teenage characters in an educational environment. You have an intelligent kid completing a fellow student's homework, the pretty one who is obsessed with her own self-image and the shy student who refuses to join in with the P.E. lesson. We've all seen this stereotypes countless times before; there's nothing new here. Thankfully these early scenes are not representative of the rest of the movie, which is much more inventive with its videogame format, but the school scenes do perhaps go on a little too long and the fact that these four characters all end up in detention at the same time comes across as more than a little coincidental.

It's when they find the Jumanji game cartridge and console, and the teenage characters are sucked into the game world where the film really takes off. The four adult cast members - Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan - are hilarious together and have much more chemistry than their teenage counterparts. Jack Black in particular brings many laughs as a self-obsessed young woman stuck in the body of an 'overweight middle-aged man', trying to get used to certain male body parts and teaching Karen Gillan's Ruby Roundhouse/Martha how to flirt. Speaking of which, Karen Gillan more than holds her own alongside these well-accomplished comedy actors; this film neatly showcases her knack for comedy demonstrated in her many funny moments from Doctor Who Confidential, especially in the hugely entertaining scene where she tries to flirt with Van Pelt's videogame henchmen, and completely fails. It's not hard to see why Karen Gillan has quickly become one of the most successful actors to come from Doctor Who, as she is instantly endearing to watch on-screen.

It helps that Karen Gillan appears to have extremely good taste, with both Guardians of the Galaxy and now Jumanji having proven to be solid films. Jumanji is clever in the way that it plays with certain videogame conventions; each player, for example, has three lives and upon their death (providing they still have lives left) they fall through the jungle skyline, back into the game with one life lost. There is also the nice integration of videogame stats, projected in front of them upon pressing their chests, and each obstacle faced by the gang forming a 'level'. So much thought and attention to detail has been paid to the structure of videogames, even to the point of non-playable characters having a pre-set number of responses, and cutscenes cutting into the gameplay. Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle may not be based on a videogame, but it is more a videogame movie than, say, the live-action Super Mario Brothers film, which bared no resemblance to the Super Mario game series it was based on.

Unfortunately videogame villain Russel Van Pelt has about as much depth as Bowser in the Mario games: IE none at all. He is possibly the most two-dimensional villain of any film of 2017, his evil antics reduced to nothing more than generic villainry and his interesting ability to control the animals living in Jumanji's jungle not used to its full potential. Russel poses little-to-no threat in the film apart from in the last ten minutes, with his videogame henchmen featured more heavily as generic soldiers on motorbikes. The stakes as a result don't feel particularly high, and it is therefore no surprise when the group succeed with the help of Nick Jonas' Jefferson McDonough/Alex.

Still, whilst the villain falls flat the action sequences are fun. Dwayne Johnson with a flame thrower is as awesome as it sounds, and Karen Gillan's dance fight scenes make for a cool watch. Both examples are well-directed by Jake Kasdan, and don't feel like they would be out of place in a videogame. Although they did miss out on a trick by not making the dance fight song Welcome To The Jungle by Guns and Roses; criminally the song only appears in the credits, and never in the film itself, which seems odd given that the film's subtitle is blatantly named after the song.

Overall, this is the kind of film you should go into without thinking too hard about what you are watching. It's not going to change the world, and it's far from the best movie out there, but what it does give you is a fun two hour cinematic experience with four extremely funny actors. In much the same way as Disney's Wreck It Ralph, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle is a stronger film adaptation of videogames than many movies based directly on pre-existing games, and many who play videogames will likely find something to like here. However the school sequences are dull and uninspired, featuring age-old cliches seen in many school-based movies. The videogame world of Jumanji is where the film comes to life, and it's worth sitting through the boring school scenes to see the clever way in which this movie incorporates videogame elements.