The best sorts of sequels are those which build upon the preexisting world while adding new twists and story beats. When done well, these are movies which can eclipse the original. The two examples that come to mind for me in particular are Aliens and The Godfather: Part 2.
I got the opportunity to catch an advanced screening of Jumanji last week, though I went in a little leery. I’m not the biggest fan of the first film. I don’t have an issue with the performances of Robin Williams and crew so much as I just didn’t care for the tone and feel of the movie. It was almost gothic, and a little on the grim side for what’s ostensibly a children’s movie.
As a result, it’s not a high bar for the sequel to surpass the original in this case, but I’m not being hyperbolic here when I say that Welcome to the Jungle is leaps and bounds better than the original!
Advance at your own risk, for spoilers await.
The main theme of the first movie was that the magical board game Jumanji brings its jungle world into the real world, and the players must negotiate various dangers and beasts along the way toward ending the game.
At the beginning of the current film, the board game is found on the beach, but as we soon see, the young man who receives it cares little for such old fashioned methods of entertainment – he’s rocking a brand new Playstation. There are a few other visual cues that this is a flashback to close to the time period of the original film.
Apparently unable to bear being ignored, the game morphs into an actual physical game cartridge, and our unlucky gamer pops it in. The camera zooms outside of his room, and a flash of green light fills the window.
We jump forward a bit in time, and spend some time meeting our main characters. If you’ve seen the trailer, it’s a bit obvious who they are. You have the archetypal geek guy and girl, the jock, and the popular girl. For various reasons, they all end up in detention together. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this segment is the relationship between Spencer, the geek, and Fridge, the jock. They were childhood friends who’ve grown apart as their interests shifted. Spencer has been helping Fridge cheat on his homework to stay on the team, but the two are caught when Spencer recycles some of the same lines in papers he turned in previously for himself.
So, detention is in the basement, the four are put to work, and so on. This has all been in the trailers, so it should be familiar territory. (Nice job by the filmmakers here, though. Some of the funniest scenes in the movie are not the trailers. Neither are the two unexpected cameos, which I won’t spoil.)
Again, if you’ve seen the trailers, you know how it goes. The four teens assume the identities of their video game avatars (which, while not an entirely new concept, is a cool twist on the original). Spencer the geek becomes The Rock’s character. Fridge the jock becomes the much-shorter Kevin Hart. Martha the geek girl assume’s the identity of Karen Gillan’s character, Ruby Roundhouse, and, funniest of all, popular girl Bethany adopts the avatar of Jack Black’s scientist character.
If you’ve seen Central Intelligence, you have a good idea of the comedic chemistry that The Rock and Kevin Hart share, and it’s on full display here. But – and I’m shocked that I’m writing this – the best, and most surprising aspect of the film is that Jack Black steals the show.
To put that into context, you have to understand something about my personal taste. I am not a Jack Black fan. He was annoying in Tropic Thunder, School of Rock was meh, and if I’ve encountered him in other films it’s been purely by accident. So I was amazed by the fact that his portrayal of Tiffany was not only spot-on, his scenes were some of the funniest moments in the movie.
And really, all four of the main leads do a great job of channeling the idiosyncrasies of their younger selves, to the point where I found myself wondering if the younger actors were imitating the older, or vice versa. It’s amazingly well done by the four main leads, both in terms of body language and in style of speaking.
In terms of overall structure and story, the sequel generally takes the same arc as the first movie, but the addition of the video game aspect really takes it to the next level. I particularly liked the way that re-spawn and bonus lives were portrayed.
All in all, more than worth your time at the box office if you’re looking for something to see other than The Last Jedi the week before Christmas.