Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Early Reviews: A Fun But Bland Video Game Movie

The first reviews for Jake Kasdan's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle are now online. The first Jumanji movie, directed by Joe Johnston and famously starring Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, and Bradley Pierce, released in 1995, and it was based on the 1981 children's novel of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. Although the movie was decidedly mixed amongst critics, it turned out to be an astounding success at the box office and has even become a generational favorite.

Sony Pictures commissioned a Jumanji sequel in 2015 and planned on releasing the movie in December 2016, but plans changed and now the standalone sequel, entitled Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, is scheduled to hit theaters on December 20, 2017, starring Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan as the four main characters. Unlike the first film (and book), the Jumanji sequel takes place inside a video game (a greater representation for present-day society), with all four character being high school students entering the world of Jumanji as their in-game avatars.

Related: Jumanji to Lead New Christmas Films at Box Office

The Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle embargo has now lifted ahead of the film's early screenings for Amazon Prime members, and the first batch of reviews from critics are now online. We've compiled SPOILER-FREE excerpts from reviews below, with links tracing back to the respective outlets if readers choose to read the reviews in their entirety.

Chris Nashawaty - EW

The underlying message of the film is that you can’t judge a book by its cover. That these reluctant partners have to work through their differences and become a team. It’s hard to argue with something as well-intentioned as that. But it’s fairly banal, and nothing you haven’t seen (done better) a thousand times before, minus the giant CGI hippos and marauding elephants. Whenever the movie tiptoes up to actually being deeper and funnier and more clever than that, it seems to lose its nerve and doubles down on anvil-to-the-skull slapstick. Welcome to the Jungle isn’t a bad movie. It’s a diverting, mildly amusing, competent bit of big-budget studio product. And maybe those are the stakes we’re now playing for these days. But in the process it manages to pull off something I once would have thought was impossible: It makes the original Jumanji look like a beloved cinema classic.

Owen Gleiberman - Variety

Excitement! Suspense! Childlike innocence! Ingeniously staged action set pieces! These are a few of the things you will not find, anywhere, in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” The one performer in the film who establishes his own relaxed rhythm, and stays in it, is Nick Jonas, proving once again that he’s got quick-draw acting chops. The movie has snakes and a crocodile pit and a scorpion slithering out of Bobby Cannavale’s mouth. It’s supposed to be a board game come to life, but really, it’s just a bored game.

Dave White - The Wrap

As premises for a combination sequel-reboot to 1995’s adventure “Jumanji” go, it’s the sort of thing could fail very badly. Happy news, then: “Jumanji: Welcome to The Jungle” is the Christmas tentpole release that aims to please and succeeds, a funny family entertainment product that subverts more expectations than it was obligated to contractually.

John DeFore - THR

Stepping far enough away from Chris Van Allsburg's 1981 children's book Jumanji to appeal to older kids while remaining just connected enough to justify keeping the name, Jake Kasdan's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle reimagines the book's magic-board-game conceit for the era of video games. By transforming its teen heroes into adult avatars, this outing both gets beyond the discomfort of throwing small kids into peril (a complaint some critics made against Joe Johnston's 1995 adaptation starring Robin Williams) and finds a way to milk a talented crew of A-list grownups — toplined by Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart — for comic value. Young audiences should enjoy the body-swap adventure, which has a few dopey moments but in general is funny enough for their parents to enjoy as well.

Alex Welch - IGN

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle brings audiences back to its classic fictional world with a fun, updated new twist on its well-worn story. So even if some of its subplots and emotional throughlines don’t quite click, the action-packed fun and humor should still make it worth your price of admission.

Hillary Busis - Vanity Fair

Mostly, though, the film strikes a nice balance between serviceable, not-overly-slick action scenes—we’ve come a long way from those shoddily animated monkeys—and comedy that’s actually rooted in character, rather than cheap references or stereotypes. What’s more, instead of reducing everyone but Johnson to sidekick or love-interest status, the story gives all four of its main characters predictable, but legitimate arcs. That’s an impressive feat for a movie most likely made for cynical reasons—one that’s not just unobjectionable, but outright enjoyable. Hart and Johnson’s George-and-Lennie chemistry crackles; Gillan’s ass-kicking is thoroughly satisfying; Black’s understated line readings and perfect timing will make you wish he’d ditch Kung Fu Panda sequels for more live-action roles. There are surprise cameos, and sweet first kisses, and exchanges that pass the Bechdel test.

David Ehrlich - IndieWire

A semi-related sequel to a 1996 kids movie that exactly zero human beings have watched since the death of VHS, the mildly amusing “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is further proof that even the stalest whiff of brand recognition has become preferable to originality. Only part of the blame for that belongs to the studios, but after cannibalizing themselves for much of the last 20 years, Hollywood has clearly eaten their way down to the crumbs.

These first reviews for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle more or less fall in-line with the first batch of social media reactions that went live last week. And while many reviewers seem to agree that the sequel is unnecessary and doesn't improve upon the original film, it's still a fun video game movie that families, especially ones with younger children, will enjoy, just as families enjoyed the first Jumanji movie. Considering that this movie will be going up against Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi and releases one week prior to all the Oscar-bait movies hitting theaters, it will be interesting to see how it performs at the domestic box office.

More: How Jumanji 2 Connects to the Original Movie

Source: Various (see links)

Key Release Dates
  • Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) release date: Dec 20, 2017
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