‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ is good?

Pranaya Pahwa | Contributing Writer

Last year, I devised potentially the greatest film never made. It was to be titled “Kevin Hart of Darkness,” and the plot was sinister and simple. It involved following a film cast and crew as they made their way on a boat deep into a jungle at night. Kevin Hart entertains with his standup routine and antics. Slowly the funny devolves into the unbearable. Madness and mutiny ensue. As the next day dawns, so, too, does a terrible truth: Our films must be better. In the climactic moments, Kevin Hart is fired and passes away in paroxysm of grief. Weary and broken, he utters his final phrase: “The horror! The horror!”

When I told my high school film teacher my idea, he simply shook his head and walked away. Perhaps he too was taken aback by my film’s bold originality. I struggled for days myself to face my film’s meaning: Maybe unremarkable, indistinguishable, awful cash-crop films shouldn’t be made. The very mention of my film shakes most major film studios to their core. Disney refuses to meet with me. Netflix won’t take my calls.

p13499680_p_v8_ab

I mention my cinematic concept for three reasons: 1. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” basically stole my idea (my lawyers will be in touch), 2. The second “Jumanji” film is a surprisingly memorable and enjoyable cash-crop film, disproving much of “Kevin Hart of Darkness,” and 3. I need the exposure (Come on Netflix, you made “Bright.” There is no way this is worse. Pick up the phone!)

I walked into “Welcome to the Jungle” with incredibly low expectations, but expectations I felt were justified. No one asked for another Jumanji. Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson consistently make forgettable and bad films. The movie was crafted to print cash and not much else—more of a stimulus package than a work of art. Despite this, “Welcome to the Jungle” actually kind of works. The film is fun and leaves you with a warm feeling. Director Jake Kasden achieves a rare feat: Unlike most of its contemporaries, “Welcome to the Jungle” creates a positive experience and may just enliven your day.

The pseudo-sequel to 1995’s “Jumanji” picks up where the last film left off. A teenager finds the board game on the beach, it turns into a video game and he quickly gets warped into the gameplay. The film then jumps decades forward into a 90s teen movie set in 2017. There is the dumb jock, Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain); the smart kid who gets pushed around, Spenser (Alex Wolff); the image-obsessed popular girl, Bethany (Madison Iseman); and the smart girl who hates the popular girls, Martha (Morgan Turner). The film “Breakfast-Clubs” (should be a verb, unfortunately isn’t) them into detention, where they find the game and get sucked in.

They soon realize that they have all been transformed into characters in the game with unique skills and weaknesses. Fridge is the small and smart Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart); Spenser, the large and powerful Dr. Smolder Bravestone (The Rock); Bethany, the intelligent and rotund Professor Shelly Oberon; and Martha, the beautiful and strong Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). As the first “Jumanji” told us repeatedly, they must finish the game to escape.

The plot is basically run-of-the-mill. There are action scenes, comic scenes and dramatic self-reflective scenes. You could probably write a summary of the film without seeing it. “Welcome to the Jungle” surprises not in what it depicts but in its sincerity in doing so.

You get the impression that the film’s cast and crew actually care about their characters. The characters have realistic dialogue and tics. The acting is strong, and the directing and editing are straightforward. I truly believe the characters and even like them. That makes the action fun, the comedy funny and the dramatic self-reflective moments maybe just a little moving.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a flawed film. It is too formulaic, and the body-switching gag can be tiring, but the movie mostly keeps everything genuinely funny and thematically relevant.

“Welcome to the Jungle’s” worn-out themes feel fresh, even when they aren’t. The film recognizes that our evolving views on the world are often reflections of our evolving views on ourselves. The characters in the film learn to not see others as caricatures by discovering that they themselves are not and don’t need to be caricatures. If not original, it is an interesting take done with heart.

Hart is in fact the crowning accomplishment of the film. If we have to deal with big-budget blockbusters like “Daddy’s Home 2,” “The Mummy” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the least we can ask of them is that they put in a little effort and have a little heart.

The big-budget cash grab is ripe for parody. “Kevin Hart of Darkness,” for me, is a joke but also a frustrated response to these movies, which appear each year like clockwork and say and do nothing. They don’t even try.

“Welcome to the Jungle” tries. Perhaps for that reason, or as a result of my low expectations, I was surprised and enjoyed the film. I would rate it a solid three stars. In the end, it doesn’t matter. I had a good time. Maybe you will, too.