THE big-haired 80s generation having mostly come into their Mail-perusing, glass-of-supermarket-Lambrusco-over-dinner-with-the-family years, cinema’s turn to the ’90s as a source of tingly nostalgic drama would seem a natural, even overdue
development, yet Hollywood has been aberrantly slow in tapping this potential market – as a matter of fact, only 2008’s The Wackness springs immediately to mind (despite what they may claim to the contrary, I seriously doubt any child of the Clinton-Blair years found Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street a particularly relatable watch).
Post-Cold War, I suppose, we’re dealing with a period strangely out of time, where the saccharine melancholy of the 80s gave way to a bland, curiously static optimism, to a rawly nihilistic consumerism quite unlike its ‘socially-conscious’ 2010s counterpart (remember heroin chic?), and to a popular culture that stands out only for its wholesale failure to contribute much outstanding at all to the international zeitgeist (unless you’re the sort that considers Spin Doctors’ Two Princes to be a seminal rock tune).
This remake-cum-reimagining-meets-sequel to 1995’s Jumanji is not actually set in the same era (the Cult of the Smartphone figures prominently in the lives of its protagonists), yet it’s profoundly at ease with the stylistic and cultural foundations of its predecessor, to a degree mostly unseen in belated follow-ups of its kind.
Whereas 21 Jump Street, for instance, ruthlessly skewered and subverted the politics of the yappy late-’80s original, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle almost appears to be rooting for the Darwinian heyday of the American high school, when freaks were freaks and jocks were jocks (and never the twain shall meet).
The central crew, roped into a buuuuuuummmmer detention, are certainly playing the part, anyway – you have the bratty queen bee (Madison Iseman), the star athlete (Ser’Darius Blain), the brain (Alex Wolff) and the Weird Girl (Morgan Turner – because, as we all know, girls can’t geek).
The ‘Jumanji’ of the first movie’s title was an old board-game that (quite literally – ha-ha) absorbed the player(s) into its world; it’s supplanted here by a crappy ’90s console actioner that transports our Breakfast Club into the thick of the eponymous jungle (in case you were wondering, yes, THAT Guns N’ Roses song makes the soundtrack, lest we ever forget it).
Nevertheless, like Zathura (the other Jumanji ‘sequel’ from 2005), Welcome to the Jungle has a few gimmicks of its own that, while unlikely to provide it a generational legacy in its own right, do much to set it apart from Mark One.
Upon entering the game world, the unwitting kids are assigned adult avatars – so, of course, the geek becomes Dwayne Johnson, the jock becomes a whiny Kevin Hart (arguably the most plausible of the transmogrifications), Turner’s awkwardoid is assigned the persona of Karen Gillan’s kick-ass ‘Killer of Men’ and the Regina George analogue becomes … Jack Black.
What starts out as a funny gag increasingly comes to pivot between the dated and the mildly un-PC (the film has a very retro obsession with sex appeal and body types), so it’s a good thing that the casting WORKS – you kinda-sorta buy into the transformations, and there’s too much action going on for you to mull it over, anyhow.
As in Central Intelligence, Johnson is playing his very particular, erm, skillset for laughs – his acting has always had a stilted awkward-teenager thing going on, and it’s channelled productively here.
This is family entertainment of the most blithely uncynical order, but the movie, packed with heart and fun performances, finds its own feet if you just give it chance.