There were three reasons why I wanted to see Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (Jake Kasdan, 2017), and fortunately neither of them failed to disappoint. First, I’m a big fan of video games (more on that later). Second, I liked the original Jumanji (Joe Johnston, 1995). Third, Jack Black playing a self-obsessed teenage girl stuck inside the body of an “middle-aged fat guy” seemed mildly amusing.
What did I like about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle?
As mentioned, video games and films are my thing. At university my undergraduate dissertation was on videogame-to-film adaptations, so Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle immediately got my attention. It successfully managed to incorporate “technoludism” in multiple ways: through its narrative critique of game logic (avatars, levels, cutscenes); by featuring a console as a prop (referred to by Fridge as an “old Super Nintendo”); through adaptation of the original movie (which is arguably a Technoludic film, given that the board game is electronic or interactive); and by remediation of the video game aesthetic (such as dropping characters out of the sky after they “die”, which is akin to respawning). The slick interplay between the different modes of incorporation was well-executed and worthy of merit.
On a lighter note, Jack Black really stole the show with his gender bending performance of Bethany (Madison Iseman), after she transitions into Dr “Shelly” Oberon. Not only was the impersonation impressively believable, but the humour was coarse and clever too. In fact, it was almost on par with White Chicks (Keenen Ivory Wayans, 2004), which is another movie that plays with gender roles and racial identity in the crudest of manners. With that in mind, it seemed like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle missed a trick by not unpacking the humour that comes from the lead protagonist Spencer (Alex Wolff) changing ethnicity when he transforms into Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson). Instead, we see him marvel several times at his seemingly superhuman body, which soon becomes an exhausted comedy device.
What didn’t I like about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle?
It lacked imagination in the real world, especially with the four stereotypical high school students bonding over detention, which is more than reminiscent of The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985). There was literally nothing new on offer here, which made the beginning and end of the movie seem flat and predictable. It would have been nice to see them approach this differently, and continue the humour outside the game. But perhaps you need that stark comparison for the game world to come alive and have more impact, so it seems even more ludicrous and outlandish.
What I often find with films that comment on video games or introduce elements of play within their narrative and visual style, from Wreck It Ralph (Rich Moore, 2012) to TRON: Legacy (Joseph Kosinski, 2010), is that there’s always more that could be done. I felt that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle could have gone a step further, past the repeated NPC (Non-Playable Character) quips, and included more common gameplay occurrences, like sidequests and having to level up, or medium-specific puns around save points, lagging and load screens. There’s still so much that could be tapped into and teased out in these movies in order to truly leverage and formalise the conventions of the Technoludic Genre.
Watch the trailer and learn more about Matthew Hepburn.