Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was released a couple of weeks ago and has thus far made bank at the box office. It’s done so well that it has a legitimate shot of topping Justice League‘s domestic take—something that should have been considered inconceivable prior to either film’s release. It’s not a bad movie, either, which is a pretty big surprise, at least from where I’m sitting. It’s one of the best “video game movies” we’ve seen, and I’d put it a step or two above the original Jumanji.
Here are the reasons why Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle works as well as it does.
It Embraces its Video Game Nature
Many video game movies try to scoot themselves away from their video game nature, hiding it in a dark corner that only occasionally has the spotlight shone upon it. Very few of them feel like video games. It’s like they’re ashamed. And sometimes it works, at least as far as the audience is concerned. The Resident Evil movies barely—especially after the first one—resemble the games they spawned them, but they collectively made over $1.2 billion worldwide.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, conversely, really does feel like a video game come to life on a movie screen. It has lives, character strengths and weaknesses, NPCs that act like NPCs—it fully embraces what a video game feels like. It’s such a rare thing to see that the only movie I can think of that does it is Wreck-It Ralph—and even it spends a significant amount of time doing non-game things.
Of course, it makes some jokes at the expense of video games, too, but that’s fair. Some games are pretty silly, and if you can’t laugh at them, you’re taking games too seriously.
Its Cast is a Lot of Fun
I don’t know if anybody is going to try to accuse Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle of having the strongest plot or characters. Once its leads are sucked into the game world, it’s as generic as they come. And the characters are stereotypes. There’s a male nerd, a shy female nerd, the attractive popular girl, and the jock. And you know that, over the course of the film and various perilous situations, they’re going to become friends.
But their dialogue exchanges are fun, and the actors playing them are great—for what the film is going for, of course. These aren’t deep or dramatic performances, but we get to watch these actors play somewhat against type and play conflicted characters. Jack Black plays someone who has the popular girl’s mind. Dwayne Johnson has the male nerd’s mind. Kevin Hart has the jock. And Karen Gillan has the shy female nerd. Their exteriors do not reflect their interiors, and that’s neat.
This is even more surprising when you see that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has five credited screenwriters. Usually, that means that it’s going to be bland and lack a distinct tone—five voices need to be as generic as possible in order to meld together. But it makes it work.
It Has Lots of jokes
In fantasy football—stay with me here—”volume over everything” (especially talent) is a common phrase. What it means is that the more attempts someone gets, the greater chance they have of succeeding. The same is true of comedy movies. The more jokes you throw at the audience, the less time we have to think about the ones that don’t land and the more overall time we’ll spend laughing. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle throws a lot of jokes at us. Not all of them hit, but enough do that it’s an overall pleasant, humorous experience.
It Has Solid Action
Nobody’s expecting the greatest action movie ever from Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. And that’s a good thing, because you’re not going to get one. But it’s significantly better than the original at this aspect. It helps, of course, that it has adult actors, at least one of whom is an action star (Dwayne Johnson), instead of a couple of children and Robin Williams. And it takes place in a video game, not the real world. Still, better action scenes—some of which are exciting—help fill in any gaps in the jokes or plot.
It Doesn’t Try to Rely on Nostalgia
I call sequels that come out decades after the original too-late sequels—largely because they missed out on whatever momentum was generated by the last film and are now relying on nostalgia. “Oh, you remember X? Well, come see Y, and because you remember X you’ll have fun.”
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle sidesteps this and, apart from its name and very basic premise, barely feels like Jumanji at all—and that’s a good thing. It updates the board game to a video game, but otherwise feels wholly its own. By not relying on that nostalgia, it’s able to do its own thing, have its own voice, and feel fresh to the audience.