Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a return to the universe of the mysterious board game Jumanji - except this time it's turned itself into a videogame, in an effort to capture the attention of 21st century screen-obsessed teens. As with the original, the central theme of the movie is a play on our relationship with the evolution of gaming. The 1995 original imagined the horrors of a tabletop game literally coming to life. Similarly, the sequel has the game appear as an innocuous retro 8-bit adventure video game, before our protagonists are sucked into a massive jungle simulacrum where they must complete a particular quest in order to escape.
In an opening prologue, we're shown that the original Jumanji game found itself washed up on a beach, where an unsuspecting jogger picked it up and took it home to give to his teenage son, Alex. None too fussed about a meager board-game when he has a PlayStation, Alex casts aside the antiquated media. As he plays his console, the camera focuses on Jumanji, implying that the game is watching how players of a new generation approach gaming. Alex, suddenly suspicious of the mysterious object, opens it to find an 8-bit game cartridge inside. Bemused, he puts the cartridge into one of his older consoles, but decides against playing. That night, while he's sleeping, the game captures him in a beam of green light before the story jumps forward 20 years and reveals that Alex has been missing ever since.
The movie plays loose with what exactly happened, but the reasonable conclusion is that Jumanji is somehow sentient. The game, whatever it's made from or whoever made it, can adapt to its environment to attract willing participants for the terrors that lie within. A lot of the basic structure of the game is replicated in Welcome to the Jungle: needing to “win” to be free; the central antagonist of Van Pelt; stampeding wild animals being a constant fear, and so on. But now they come in the form of videogame tropes and standards, like having a finite number of lives, an emphasis on the game world having a particular lore, and the baddie being kind of cool in concept but ultimately forgettable.
There's very little in the way of hard questions asked bout how or why Jumanji exists, because the characters are teenagers and they spend most of the movie trying to not die in-game. One part that raises eyebrows considerably is that a hut belonging to Alan Parrish – Robin Williams' character from the first – went somehow unchanged during the transformation, including his carving of his name. The ending also mimics this original. When Alex gets out of the game he goes home to his own time, making it so his disappearance never happened while the rest of the main characters go back to their bodies in modern day in their school basement.
In any case, the game being able to evolve and expand makes it ripe for more adventures in the future. It's worth noting that when the heroes destroy the console they found Jumanji in, they don't hit the game cartridge. So the game is still out there, waiting to be found, and waiting for whatever technological leap it can grab onto next.
- Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) release date: Dec 20, 2017