When news first got out that there would be a new Jumanji film, apparently a flat-out comedy featuring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black, I was definitely one of those people who immediately scoffed with haughty derision and quickly predicted a rotten misfire of a film, nearer the date expecting to “force myself to watch it”, given how I was fundamentally interested in what they would do with it. But then of course the reviews started coming in and, big shock, it appeared that Welcome to the Jungle was actually . . . really good! So I ultimately went in actually wanting to see it and it turns out the positive reception was completely warranted because the film turned out to be a most pleasant surprise – a great piece of entertainment with a great, funny script (gasp!) and some game performances.

The film is about four teenagers who, whilst all serving detention, find an old cartridge-based game called Jumanji (the game adapted itself from the infamous board game when it was found in 1996) and decide to give it a whirl. But as they choose their characters, they are transported into the game and find themselves inhabiting the bodies of the avatars they chose; unable to leave and with only three lives apiece (as well as character specific strengths and weaknesses), they must learn to trust and work together in order to return a mysterious gem to a Jaguar statue and break the curse of Jumanji.

At the centre are our four central performances – Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan – and they all have great fun with their characters and with the material, very believably acting like teenagers in adult bodies and working very well with both the comedy and the action/adventure. Each of them gets a chance to shine and there is a decent and believable amount of character development; each of the characters find themselves inhabiting avatars which are the complete opposite of what they were in the real world – Spencer goes from hypochondriac pushover to muscular hero with no weaknesses, Fridge goes from tall football player to being a short weapons valet, Martha, who values intelligence far more than physical activity, has to cope with being the sexy, kickass female and the self-absorbed Bethany finds herself as an “overweight, middle-aged man” – and this all makes logical sense and allows the cast to really play with their characters to an entertaining extent.

And even though there may have been a spark of controversy over Karen Gillan’s midriff-baring outfit and short shorts at some point, her character isn’t oversexualised at all and a scene where she has to use her feminine wiles to distract the guards are played purely for laughs, really successfully too – the film constantly keeps things family friendly. Because the outfit does make logical sense – a (male) game designer would surely design the “hot kickass female” in that manner and the ridiculousness of it all is pointed out very well in the film, a clear jab at the design of one Miss Lara Croft . . .

The story, whilst not exactly being revolutionary, is strong, having a clear structure that’s free of major plot holes or silliness; the videogame element works a treat and it’s an overall fun adventure story that should appeal to most ages (I saw this film in a jam-packed screening full of all kinds of people and the whole room seemed to really enjoy it) and it doesn’t take itself too seriously, injecting plenty of genuine humour that never really veers into being crass, silly or ridiculous. The effects are decent, though not without one or two nit-pickety drops in quality, and the whole film manages to be very bright, colourful and immersive.

So that’s it really. Despite predicting a mess at one point, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle turned out to be a very pleasant surprise as it was a fun, exciting adventure where the comedy worked and the central quartet was great fun to be around. An ideal film to watch at the very end of 2017.

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A highly enjoyable piece of family entertainment where the humour works perfectly well, the script is confident and well put together, never once becoming too silly or lowbrow, and the entire cast look like they’re having a blast. A refreshingly fun adventure indeed.

★ ★ ★ ★

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