Thursday, 28 December 2017

IN THEATRES: Jumanji - Welcome to the Jungle

A group of high school students on detention find themselves sucked inside an old video game and have to work together to complete the game so that they can return home. Basically, it is the same plot as Zathura.

This movie turned out to be far better than it had any right to be. Most of Dwayne Johnson’s movies derive most of their entertainment value from their star - the scripts are generally unremarkable (Central Intelligence) and the filmmaking is by-the-numbers at best (Walking Tall, Faster etc). Jumanji - Welcome to the Jungle is easily one of Johnson’s best constructed vehicles. 

The premise is clear and straightforward, the characters all have something to do and the movie has a good basic theme - learning to become comfortable with yourself - which the movie carries through to the fianle. It’s really predictable, and does not do anything particularly original. But when the execution is this solid, who cares?

The movie is so solid, I’m in danger of having nothing to write about. There is nothing particularly bad about it. It is just a good, fun movie that does exactly what it sets out to do.

Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan are all good. The movie is more of an ensemble piece, and they all provide good counter-weights to Johnson. 

The most interesting thing about Jumanji is how it echoes last year’s Central Intelligence in having Johnson in a role that played against his out-sized persona. In that case it was a professional spy who is still trapped in the same mindset he has had since high school. Jumanji continues this trend by having him playing the super heroic avatar for a hypochondriac nerd. It speaks well of Johnson that he is willing to make himself the subject of mockery - and hopefully it signals a willingness to seek out more roles that allow to try different types of characters. 

There is one weird issue with Johnson’s role that  presents an interesting/problematic subtext that the film never explores: in the movie his real-life counterpart, Spencer (Alex Wolff) is a nerdy white kid who turns into Johnson's super-masculine explorer Dr Smolder Bravestone while his former friend, high school football star Antony/'Fridge' is transformed into Bravestone's lackey Franklin "Mouse" Finbar (Hart). Is the game turning Spencer into the person he wishes he could be i.e. someone like Fridge? Is Jumanji - Welcome to the Jungle a sequel to Get Out

Probably not. This aspect of the movie is another example of the ways in which Hollywood views Johnson. He is in a weird category with Vin Diesel where his race is never part of the movie. I first noticed it while listening to Black Men Can't Jump (in Hollywood) - the hosts have brought this absence/erasure when discussing Johnson's movies and  Outside of the Fast & Furious movies which throw in occasional references, in movies like Hercules and San Andreas, it is never referenced in the diegesis. The latter movie goes to the laughable extreme of giving him a whiter-than-white daughter, played by Alexandra Daddario. It’s like the filmmakers see him as a generic plug-in movie star. 

It is an interesting element of Johnson’s persona, reminiscent of the way Arnold Schwarzenegger just became ‘American’ in his movies, with no in-film reason for his accent or ridiculous physique. It is an interesting issue that keeps popping up with Johnson’s movies. Considering the vague moves toward greater diversity in Holywood, it will be interesting to see if Johnson continues to operate in his category.

Back to the movie! Jumanji - Welcome to the Jungle is a fun movie. Check it out!

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