Friday, August 03, 2018

Who Cares?

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, was a huge hit last year.  With a cast that includes Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan, it was the biggest domestic grosser any of them had appeared in (including the Fast And The Furious and Guardians Of The Galaxy films).  In fact, the film was such a crowd-pleaser that though it finished second in grosses its first week (behind The Last Jedi), it was #1 for five of the next six weeks.

The film doesn't need a sequel, but it's getting one, of course.  Is that a good idea?  We'll see. But I admit I'd thought a Jumanji reboot in the first place was a bad idea.

I was a big fan of the original Jumanji in 1995 (based on a book, though it essentially created its own plot since the book was pretty basic).  I thought the central concept really worked.  There are a bunch of players in a game--both kids and adults (who started playing when they were kids)--who have to finish to return to normal life.  Whereas in most films the leads try to avoid danger, in Jumanji, the characters understood that every time they rolled the dice some unknown danger would come to them, but they had no choice.  Plus the plot took unexpected turns and had true heart.

I didn't see the point, creatively speaking, of doing it again when they'd done it right the first time.  And when I saw the trailer, I was even less impressed.  In this reboot, the kids would be sucked into a videogame.  That seemed to be missing the magic of the first, not to mention it felt like we'd seen this plot before.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the movie.  And re-watching it recently on cable, I can see why it works.  Mind you, I have a friend, a screenwriter, who thought it was by the numbers.  Perhaps it does telegraph the plot somewhat, but the characters make it work anyway.

Action films don't work because of stunts and effects.  Those things help, but they're never enough by themselves.  If they were, then DC films would be as good as Marvel films.

It's about characters, and how the plot relates to them.  To care about a fight, you've got to care about the fighters.  And Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle solved the problem in a fun way.  It's pitched toward teenagers, but can be appreciated by anyone who was a teenager.

The first act introduces four kids, each a high school stereotype.  There's Spencer, the nerd, Fridge, the jock, Bethany, the hot girl and Martha, the shy girl.  Then they unwittingly take on their avatars in the Jumanji game and get to see how the other half lives.

Thus, Spencer becomes a muscular hero (Johnson), Fridge a half-pint (Hart), Bethany a portly, middle-aged man (Black) and Martha a babe who knows how to fight (Karen Gillan).  This leads to some decent comedy, as we get Hart complaining, Johnson gulping at his derring-do, Gillan being awkward and Black who can't even.

But it also gives resonance to the characters--they're going through a journey that changes them.  And it's why, after the climax, when they win the game, there's a lengthy denouement not featuring the stars, but bringing back the actors who play the teens.  Because we've come to know who they are, and we want to see how things are resolved when they get back to real life.

And I think that's why the film did so well week after week. It wasn't just a thrilling adventure film.  It made the audience laugh and ultimately care.


Blogger brian said...

Enjoyed it. Never saw the original.

2:43 PM, August 03, 2018  
Blogger LAGuy said...

You should check it out. It's a different movie entirely.

4:15 PM, August 03, 2018  

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