Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
The game has evolved.
My first reaction when I heard they were making a Jumanji movie after the first was the same as usual - why? It's not that there isn't fun to be had there, but I don't remember the original one being particularly stellar as far as overall reception - and a quick glance at review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes tells me I'm not remembering that far off. Then later on I heard that it was going to be a sequel and thought "good for them on not needlessly rebooting something." After seeing the trailer I recall the thought of "that could be a fun movie, but I don't think I'll hit it in theaters." After that, it slipped off the radar and I didn't really hear much about it, until a couple of people I know came in with their thoughts on "it was actually a pretty fun movie" - which brings us up to date to now, when those fateful drums be banging and drawing me in.
The plot isn't that different from the movie that came before it. It's another situation where modernizing the film shouldn't really hurt it - indeed, plenty of "classics" from the 80's and 90's have plenty of things that a modern audience can't as easily attach to, as surely you've heard me say back when I did the various franchise reboot films in the past. In this particular case, I don't necessarily feel that board games or detention and cliques are something that's estranged from the modern audience, but the change to a more video game focus does help them set the movie apart from the other. Functionally, it's still that core silly concept of a game that sucks you in and allows bad things to happen - but instead of putting weird things in the real world, you instead gain more lenience for the more fantastical elements because you are in this game world - even if your existence in there is still intrinsically tied to that of the real world.
In this way, the visual department also gets to go nuts in various ways. We get plenty of costumes ranging from almost "Mad Max biker" to a more classic safari-going jungle explorer. Some of the costume are even little jabs at games in general - such as the sexy attire of our only in-game female avatar or the incredibly oversized bag of on or the males. I'd argue that this is a hit or miss sort of thing - in the case of the first, I've seen women wear far more revealing things in confusing places than that in the real world so the commentary is a bit lost on me (particularly when you get a decent thought out counter-point in the same movie). In the later, I get a little smile on my face, because those bags of holding always are such a wonderful thing. Of course, the real-world side of things goes as far as to try and make the characters look typical of a specific trait - the popular girl with her tight clothes and revealing top, the nerd with his button up shirt and so on.
Still, those costume are well done and far less of a mixed bag than the rest of the visual effects. Largely things look great admittedly, but you will still find those occasional moments popping up where something is either blatantly fake or just looks off - normally when associating with animals of various kinds, although occasionally something dealing with the actual human characters themselves. It's not enough to make me not enjoy the movie, but I'm also the guy that's used to watching and enjoying movies of sub-budget quality - it never stops me from pointing it out, but it doesn't impact me in the same way as someone who expects a phenomenal level of polish on their movies. There's also some nice usage here to help push the game aspect of things as well - such as the number of lives being a tattoo on the avatars arm. It's a little detail (that they point out pretty heavy), but sometimes the details can be some of the more enjoyable parts.
As pointed out before, the story here really doesn't stray all that far from the bush. I'd argue it might be a bit more Breakfast Club than Jumanji at times - what with a group of differentials coming together and learning to appreciate each other or different views on things than they would have if left in the normal every day world. It's a family movie in that sense, and it doesn't really try and hide when it does it - heck, sometimes when it does the "overcoming your faults" part it's literally a negative of the "character" that is spelled out as their game stat block. At the same time though, it does provide ample time and effort into making the characters feel as though they develop over the course of the movie - with the exception of the villain, who is about as stereotypical and one-dimensional as they come - and the first movie's big bad (besides the game) was a one-note game hunter that wanted to kill a player, so I guess it's fair to say that I didn't really expect much in that department to begin with.
The actors here do a great job with things. Rarely do you find yourself not enjoying a Johnson performance, but I'd almost be willing to wager that Black might steal the spotlight from him with his stellar performance of "teenage pretty girl stuck in a middle age dudes body." You will laugh, probably at some crude joke you feel like you shouldn't have laughed at, but you won't care because your having fun anyways. The other two mains don't exactly try and be left behind either, doing their fair share to add in to the humor and really sell their parts - such as Gillian's almost hurts-to-watch flirting scene. The kids of the real world do an alright job as well, but for better or worse are far overshadowed by their in-game counterparts.
There are a few things that it doesn't exactly hold up from the original Jumanji however (which is a problem a lot of sequels happen to have). In all honesty, I don't really care, but I feel like I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't point them out. It plays a little fast and loose with the game's established rules, including when it comes to the ending. In the change to game, it also lost a lot of the riddles happening - which isn't necessarily a bad thing in my mind, and they do also keep a good handful in there that carry with them some importance and sneakiness. They also have a reference to the first, and a few of the typical idiot calls here and there or moments when a thing will happen because it has to happen before we get into the game. Again, for the mindset someone should be having when watching Jumanji, I don't feel any of these are really a problem in the long run, but there it is.
A real fun movie. It has a good heart to heart moment now and then, but where it really brings up it's batting average in in overall mood and jokes. A person who plays games may get a little more or less out of this depending on how willing they are to accept a joke as a joke, but I don't feel it's any less accessible to the normal watcher. The actors do a great job, the shots are all nice looking for the most part, and I can totally agree with the review scores that it's more fun than the first - even though I didn't think the first was all that bad either.