Going into this, my husband and I were musing about The Rock’s recent career in movies that we would never see.
“The Rock in yet another remake,” said Husband.
” I guess they needed a stereotypical buff guy,” I replied.
I have never been so glad to be wrong about Dwayne Johnson.
Jumanji spins off the original concept about a board game that sucks its players into its world. Reconstructed now as a retro video game, it captures four unwitting teenagers and turns them into the characters that they chose. Only through finishing the game successfully can the teenagers return to the real world.
A part of me went “oh no” when four of the most unlikely teenagers are stuck in detention together. How do you convince viewers that a nerd, a jock, a popular girl and an outcast would actually stop and play a video game together? The answer (in Jumanji, at least) is that you do it badly and quickly. Rip it off like a band-aid and hope the pain goes away. Fortunately for this movie, it works.
There’s so much satisfaction in seeing the awkward teenagers becoming their game avatars. For example, Spencer (the nerd) transforms into Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Johnson). The Rock did such a complete job of portraying the nerd trapped in a hunky body that I will now happily defend Johnson’s acting ability. Even more notable is Bethany (the popular girl) getting ” an over-weight middle-aged man” (Jack Black) as her avatar. The potential for LOLs is so obviously there and I’m glad to say that Jumanji milks it for what it’s worth.
Having spent countless hours in RPGs (role playing games), I cannot fully express my delight at how brilliantly the movie portrayed the game world. Rhys Darby appears as Nigel the NPC (non-player character) who can only follow the script he’s been given. Players respawn from some mysterious portal in the air when they die. And characters are given strengths and weaknesses, some of which are delightfully nonsensical. As a gamer, it felt like one beautiful homecoming.
Sure, there’s a lot of cringy stereotyping. Ruby Roundhouse is dressed in a crop top. Smolder Bravestone’s strengths include just plain “smouldering intensity”. Moose Finbar (the only black character) has so few strengths that one of them includes just carrying weapons for Bravestone. But it’s all so tongue-in-cheek. Even Martha (the outcast) who becomes Ruby Roundhouse remarks on the fact that she’s so ineptly dressed for the jungle. And to be honest, if I remember retro video games correctly, I don’t remember any that were politically correct (Golden Axe is coming to mind at the moment).
In the end, Jumanji comes off as a perhaps too-tidy but very entertaining package. I’m not sure that I can full-heartedly recommend it as great family viewing. But if you’re a gamer and looking for an awesome cry-laugh session, don’t miss this one.