I was a bit on the old side to go wild for the original Jumanji, so the nostalgia-fueled appeal of a sequel or reboot or whatever you want to call it is lost on me. Nonetheless, the board game’s evolution to video game was the stroke of genius to make this twist on the rather tired body-swapping plot worth playing. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan have a blast as unlikely avatars for their teenage protagonists tasked with saving the mythical kingdom of Jumanji if they ever wish to return to the real world. And they only have three lives with which to beat the game.
A game cast elevates Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle from merely a sentimental cash grab to a creative reuse of previous material. Unsurprisingly, Johnson squeezes all the laughs he can from playing squirrelly teenage nebbish Spencer (Alex Wolff, whom you may remember from Patriots Day), and Hart’s natural mode is big attitude in a small body.
Black has the thankless task of acting like a self-absorbed teenage girl (Madison Iseman plays the female Bethany), an idea naturally cursed from the start; leave it to Black to somehow make this whole act—even Bethany’s cringeworthy interest in her new male appendage—charming. As Martha, the smart girl turned killer of men, Ruby Roundhouse, Gillan gets less to do than she gets to wear, though she does learn to flirt poorly in a charming scene that still gives Black the better material.