'Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle' (2017) - Movie Review

I was never a huge fan of the original "Jumanji," and even less so its loosely based sequel "Zathura." Both are about board games that, when played, bring elements of the game into the real world with you - including hordes of monkeys or a meteor shower. And you're stuck with the game's problems until you finish playing - which is difficult as the elements of the game keep getting worse. But the movies left a lasting impression on a generation (particularly the original "Jumanji," which starred Robin Williams) and the series has been resumed with a re-interpretation of the board game as a video game.

Four teenagers are given detention: the nerdy Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), football player and childhood friend of Spencer's, Anthony "Fridge" Johnson (Ser'Darius Blain), self-absorbed and phone-obsessed beauty Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman), and nerd-girl Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner). In the basement they're supposed to be cleaning they discover an old video game console: once it's plugged in and they've selected characters, they're sucked into the world of the game. And re-assigned personality traits and even, in one case, genders as they occupy their avatars inside Jumanji. Spencer becomes "Smolder Bravestone" (Dwayne Johnson), buff, intelligent, brave, and incredibly strong. Bethany becomes Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black), a middle-aged and overweight cartographer (she is NOT happy about it). Fridge becomes "Mouse" Finbar (Kevin Hart), much smaller, slower, and weaker than he is in the real world, with a skill set primarily aimed at carrying things for Bravestone. And Martha becomes "Ruby Roundhouse," a scantily clad and kick-ass martial artist.

All of the in-game actors do a good job of owning their outside characters. It's clear they had a great time making the movie, and that comes through as more fun for us. Jack Black is particularly funny as a teenage girl in a middle-aged man's body. The dialogue is weak in places, although some argument can be made that it's teenagers talking - not the more adult avatars they appear to me. But for the most part, the ludicrous action (it's a video game) and frequent jokes carry us past the weaker moments. A lot of fun.