In a year saturated with reboots, sequels, and adaptations (44 of them hit cinemas this year, according to Business Insider) it’s no surprise that Sony wanted a chance to cash in on the trend with a 22-years-later sequel to the beloved Jumanji starring the late Robin Williams. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a sequel that nobody asked for or wanted.

Thank being said, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was an absolute blast. In this modern-update, Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan play four teenage stereotypes that get sucked into the video game world of Jumanji.

Though the first 20 minutes or so of the film (where the teenagers are played by appropriately aged actors) feels sort of like a disney channel movie about the status quo of American high school, the movie takes off once the game starts.

Charisma machine Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson with co-stars Jack Black and Karen Gillan

Johnson and Black in particular are a joy to watch, as they both take on roles outside of their typical wheelhouse. Johnson plays Spencer, a nerdy awkward teenager who is suddenly thrust into the character of Dr. Smolder Bravestone, a brave, handsome, and charismatic protagonist with near-inhuman strength and speed. Black, on the other hand, takes on the role of pretty and popular Bethany who accidentally chooses to play as Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon, the overweight cartographer of the group. Though conceptually these pairings are funny enough, both actors fully commit to their characters and really make you believe that this is how a teenager would react in this situation.

The film also benefits from it’s update from a board game to a video game, allowing room for meta-humor about how video games work. NPCs (non-player characters) appear out of nowhere to deliver three lines of crucial plot information and then start to malfunction when asked any questions, the main characters have special abilities and weaknesses that can make or break them in a fight, and there is absolutely no fall damage. By allowing these characters to comment on the video game aspect of their situation and learn to use them to their advantage, the film remains tonally consistent as a comedy while still delivering on some fun to watch butt-kicking action scenes.

a sequel that respects fans of the original while delivering something new and unexpected

Amidst all of the jokes and action sequences, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle manages to slip in some heart and commentary on larger issues of race and gender. When Gillan’s character of Martha appears as the barely-dressed Ruby Roundhouse, so complains about this and is eventually given a jacket to help feel a bit more comfortable. When Anthony (Hart) realizes that his character’s back story is sort of racist, he comments on this, calling out the very medium that the film in celebrating. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn’t necessarily groundbreaking in its discussion of these topics, but it it certainly refreshing.

In fact, this film can be well summed up with the term “refreshing.” It’s a sequel that respects fans of the original while delivering something new and unexpected. It stars character actors who break out of their mold to play against their usual casting. And it at least starts to touch on topics that money-grab films typically shy away from.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn’t going to be winning any BAFTAs or Oscars, but it is certainly a fun time and a nice way to spend two hours.

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