Nostalgia, family fun, and laugh out loud moments all play a part in Columbia Pictures and Sony Entertainment's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle from director Jake Kasdan. Picking up a few moments after the original film, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle begins in 1996 when young Alex Vreeeke receives a board game from his father. Magically, overnight the game turns itself into a video game cartridge. After his curiosity gets the better of him, Alex tries the game out and disappears.
Twenty-one years later, a group of high four school students, nerdy Spencer (Alex Wolff), jock Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), outsider Martha (Morgan Turner), and cheerleader Bethany (Madison Iseman), are each given attention for various reasons. While in detention, the foursome finds the Jumanji cartridge and decides to try out the game. This leads to the group literally being drawn into the game's jungle setting and becoming the adult avatars they chose.
Nerdy Spencer becomes muscular, the tough man Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson). In contrast, Jock Fridge becomes zoologist Moose Finbarr (Kevin Hart). Bethany becomes an overweight middle-aged man, Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black). At the same time, meek Martha is now a beautiful athletic woman Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillam).
The foursome must work together to beat the game to get out of the world of Jumanji, to return home. Along the way, the group runs into the big bad of the game John Van Pleet (Bobby Cannavale) and Seaplane McDonough (Nick Jonas), the avatar of Alex Vreeeke. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was initially met with criticism from fans of the original film. However, the sequel stands on its own. Instead of rehashing the film's first plot, director Kasdan and co-writer Chris McKenna play on its strengths. Instead of having Johnson dominate the entire film as an action hero, we actually get a chance to see Johnson use his brains to figure out the problem.
While Hart doesn't rely on his usual comedic style and is actually a bit reserved this time. Gillian, who has recently come into her own with her work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is also reliable juggling her one-liners and action sequences. However, the film truly belongs to Jack Black, who pulls off an arrogant drama queen with ease. Nick Jones surprises in the movie as well, and given the right material, he can have a decent acting career.
If I have one gripe about the film, it would be the under usage of the big bad. Most video games rarely have memorable villains'. However, given how effective Cannavale has been in past villainous roles, he just seems to be going through the motions here.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn't a perfect film, but it is a fun one. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle knows what its mission is for its audience, and it succeeds. With enough laughs, action, and reference to the first film, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Is well worth your time this holiday season.
Final Grade: B+