REVIEW: ‘Jumanji’ sequel can be summed up by its trailer

Kevin Hart stars in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the new sequel based on Chris Van Allsburg’s book and the original 1990s movie. Photo courtesy of © 2017 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the unneeded sequel to the Robin Williams movie in the 1990s, suffers from many problems, but the worst of them is that all the good laughs were featured in the trailer. That means when Dwayne Johnson (“The Rock”), Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan head into the thrilling game for some humorous adventures, the laughs can be seen a mile away.

The original film was a clever adaptation of the picture book by Chris Van Allsburg. Williams and Bonnie Hunt faced off against the dangers of the jungle in their own home, and the only way to survive was to master the board game that gives the movie its title.

The sequel takes place 20 years later and features a group of high school students who receive detention (think The Breakfast Club, but not as good). While wasting away the time, they find the old Jumanji game and get sucked into the jungle world.

The complication is that they have assumed avatars in this alternate reality, and these new characters are what provide the laughs — at least in the trailer. Alex Wolff’s nerdy Spencer turns into Johnson’s muscled adventurer. Madison Iseman’s vain Bethany turns into Black’s professor role. Ser’Darius Blain’s Anthony turns into Hart’s zoologist, and Morgan Turner’s Martha turns into Gillan’s Ruby Roundhouse character, a commando.

Black gets a lot of mileage playing a high school girl, but the other actors can never catch up to his comedic performance. The humor that comes from these drastic makeovers is lost on the audience after a few minutes.

As the four avatars make their way through the video game (the board-game idea is largely ditched in this sequel), they meet a few heroes and villains along the way. Nick Jonas plays an adventurer who has been in the Jumanji world for some time, and Bobby Cannavale plays a malevolent marauder who tries to stop the quartet from accomplishing their goal. Cannavale’s backstory is never explored or explained, at least not in detail.

From left, Kevin Hart (Franklin “Moose” Finbar), Dwayne Johnson (Dr. Smolder Bravestone), Karen Gillan (Ruby Roundhouse) and Jack Black (Professor Shelly Oberon) star in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Photo courtesy of Frank Masi. ©2016 CTMG. All Rights Reserved.

The movie runs long at nearly two hours, and the script is not that clever. The jokes run dry, or were featured in the trailer, and the visuals are only interesting on occasion. The original had a real energy when the beasts of the animal kingdom stormed into the house, but this time, the animals are downplayed for the big personalities of the human actors. There are some snakes, jaguars, rhinos and an elephant, but they take a side spotlight to the above-the-title billing of Johnson, Hart, Black and Gillan.

Jake Kasdan, the director, worked off a script he wrote with Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner. That’s a lot of writing talent to tell what is a simple story. Maybe cutting the movie by 20 minutes and focusing on the thrills rather than these two-dimensional characters would have worked better.

There are lessons to be learned by the character arcs in the film, but even a 5-year-old would be able to figure them out. Shy teenagers should open up and discover the world. Vain teenagers should start caring about other people. Apparently it takes traveling to a life-threatening jungle to figure out these basic lessons of humanity.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017), directed by Jake Kasdan, stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Bobby Cannavale and Nick Jonas. Written by Kasdan, Chris McKenna, Erick Sommers, Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner. Running time: 119 minutes. Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language. Rating: ★★☆☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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