7: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Recently, I have been getting more critical about how action and dumb fun are being handled in films. After a slew of disappointing or rather mediocre films have been released in 2018 that I listed in my Upgrade review, it seems like films these days are afraid of being simple entertainment. There is nothing wrong with being as good as you can be with certain stories and film genres. You don’t need to try to be more than what you are, which dooms most of these types of films. Films like Game Night don’t need to be any more complex than to simply focus on good writing, character dynamics, and good jokes. The same goes with today’s review of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which was directed by Jake Kasdan, is one of 2017’s biggest surprises, and easily one of the best films that are aware of what they are and take advantage of it.

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The story revolves around four teenagers. A nerdy student named Spencer, played by Alex Wolff, a popular girl named Bethany, played by Madison Iseman, a jock named Anthony, played by Ser’Darius Blain, and a shy introvert named Martha, played by Morgan Turner. After getting into trouble at their school for different reasons, they are tasked with cleaning up a room full of random stuff as punishment. As they clean up, Spencer finds an old video game console with a game called Jumanji in it. He offers to play a quick game with everyone before getting back to work, only to be sucked into the game console. Not only that, but they end up as the characters they selected. This means that Spencer turns into Dr. Smolder Bravestone, played by Dwayne Johnson, Bethany turns into Professor Shelly Oberon, played by Jack Black, Anthony turns into Franklin “Mouse” Finbar, played by Kevin Hart, and Martha turns into Ruby Roundhouse, played by Karen Gillan. They are then tasked by an NPC to get the heart of Jumanji back to its rightful place, and avoid the evil hands of Russel Van Pelt, played by Bobby Cannavale. Along the way, they will have to face challenges, wild animals, and an encounter with a character named Jefferson McDonough, who is played by Nick Jonas, who was a teen from an earlier time of playing this game. Can they survive and not die in the game?

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So, what works about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle? Well, for one, like I said above, it knows and is aware of what kind of movie it is. Sure, it has its commentary areas of the problem with judging people on face value, but for the most part, Welcome to the Jungle is a well-written, action-packed, and hugely entertaining action adventure flick. Since it takes place in a video game world, which I think is a clever and creative way to update the Jumanji concept, they take full advantage of having outlandish chase sequences, over-the-top hand-to-hand combat, and creative challenges that move the story forward, and develop everyone as characters. This is easily some of the most fun action that I have seen from a film this decade that wasn’t something like the Mission Impossible films.

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The other major highlight of the film is the cast they have for the video game avatars. This was going to be challenging, because you need the right actors to portray their teen counterparts, and you couldn’t have gotten a better cast than the four leads. Dwayne Johnson has easily become of the surprise actors of this decade, because he seems to know exactly how to approach his characters, and he’s usually given the right amount of material to work off of to make him easily one of the best things about the film. I think everyone got worried with how Kevin Hart was going to be in the film, and his recent controversy not withstanding (he didn’t handle the apology well at all), this is probably his best performance and my favorite performance of his outside of The Secret Life of Pets. It shows with good directing and an actual script, comedic actors can be good. Jack Black was also another curious addition, because you would think him having to portray the bratty popular girl would run itself to death, but Jack Black also turns into another huge highlight of the movie with comedy that reminds me why I love Jack Black as an actor. Karen Gillan does a great job being this introverted butt-kicking parody of Lara Croft, who, like many have said, is a much better Lara Croft than the other Tomb Raider films. Then again, when you have the same actress that plays Nebula in the Marvel films, why should anyone be surprised that she is just awesome? Even some of the more minor roles like Rhys Darby, who plays a literal non-playable video game character brings so much personality to the performance. Bobby Cannavale is just hilarious as the villain. He’s really one-dimensional, but you can tell he has so much fun playing this overly evil villain that lets bugs crawl in and out of his body. I think if you can’t have fun with a literal over-the-top villain, then you can’t be a good actor.

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Now, let’s talk about the big elephant in the room. I know many people do not like this movie because they love the original film from the 90s, and think this movie dumps all over the legacy of the first film. I mean, it really doesn’t. Plus, have people seen the first Jumanji film? It’s a decent 90s family film with the only noteworthy thing is that it’s fondly remembered, because of Robin Williams in it. It’s not even his best movie role. Like, I get childhood nostalgia can be one heck of a drug, but nostalgia also hides a lot of issues films from back in the day had. I have no personal connection to it, because I saw the film years later. It has shoddy effects, a clunky pacing to the story, and it’s really not as good as people remember it to be. If you love it, that’s perfectly fine. Don’t let my non-connection to it ruin it for you. You watch what you like, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise to stop watching it. With all that said, did this need to be a Jumanji sequel? That’s really the biggest problem here. Sony could have had a great new franchise, but they didn’t know if people would go see it unless it was connected to something nostalgic. Maybe this was the original intention, but at the same time, you could take the Jumanji elements out of the film, and you would still get a great action film that’s highly entertaining, and does a solid job making fun of video games. Now, with a sequel coming ahead, what are they going to do? They can’t go into the jungle again, because we already saw that? Will Jumanji shape into a different kind of video game genre? Will it be like a Zathura-style thing where it goes from jungles to outer space? That’s the kind of struggle the new film will be having to solve.

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Despite some minor elements, and the fact that Sony used the license for nostalgic reasons, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is frankly, one of the most fun and rewatchable films I have seen in a while. It has good writing, good acting, fun action, great jokes, and is one of the best surprises of the year. I hope they make a sequel that’s just as good as this one. Welcome to the Jungle was a great time that I wouldn’t mind saying Play it Again!

5: Upgrade Review


(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

What does Pacific Rim: Uprising, Peter Rabbit, Tomb Raider, Proud Mary, The Titan, Action Point, Gringo, The Outsider, Mute, and A Futile and Stupid Gesture have in common? These are just a handful of films I have seen this year, where I felt like we were supposed to get one kind of film, but either through bad marketing, or simply bad filmmaking, we didn’t get them. Some came closer than others to giving us what we wanted, but they all failed at certain levels. I decided to talk about a film that not only gives us what we want, but also more. The film in question is Upgrade, directed by Leigh Whannell.

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The story revolves around a stay-at-home mechanic named Grey Trace, played by Logan Marshall-Green. He does custom car requests while his wife, Asha, played by Melanie Vallejo, works for a high-tech company known as Cobolt. After taking a refurbished car to a client named Eron Keen, they get ambushed by a group of hitmen that leave Grey a quadriplegic and Asha dead. After moping around as a quadriplegic, Grey gets an offer from his last client, Eron Keen, played by Harrrison Gilbertson, to stick a highly advanced AI chip named STEM into the back of Grey’s neck that will help him walk again. After getting used to walking, Grey begins to hear the chip talking to him, and is voiced by Simon Maiden. He offers Grey the opportunity to find these hitmen and take them down, hoping to solve the mystery of who sent them, and why they killed his wife.

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When you first see the trailer, it looks like it’s going to be a hyper-violent sci-fi romp. Well, thankfully, while they do show most of the action scenes for probably marketing reasons, it’s so much fun! You know how The Revenant was shot to make you follow the action up close to make you feel like you were there? Upgrade does that in a similar way. Each time Grey lets STEM take over, the camera turns robotic and wonky, but not in a messy or amateur-hour sort of way. STEM essentially controls Grey like a puppet, so his movements match that whenever the action scenes decide to kick in. It makes for some of the best action that’s not from a superhero movie in 2018. It’s surprisingly gory, but that’s part of the fun. It’s brutal, in your face, and hugely entertaining to watch. Definitely don’t watch this if you get turned off by hyper-violence, but keep chugging along if you do! To make this not just a pulp violent schlockfest, the story that tackles the commentary about how far will we let technology go, and the overreliance of said technology, does lead to a really captivating mystery as to who sent the hitmen after Grey and his wife. I wasn’t really expecting that, because I was ready to succumb to the gory ride, but was glad to see there was more under the hood. It turns what you would find in a direct-to-video bargain bin from the 80s and 90s, into a rather captivating sci-fi thriller. It’s a fairly focused story that keeps you invested in Grey and his mission, and while it does sort of turn into a Black Mirror episode by the end, I loved it. Logan Marshall-Green does a great job at portraying a slightly jaded, but grounded individual, and brings a lot of great deliveries to the film’s nice splash of dark comedy. I mean, how would you act for the first time you let a highly advanced AI chip control your body without your control, and you kept seeing yourself do all of these amazing action film set-piece movements?

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With all that said, I do have one major problem with the film, and it’s the fact that out of 90 or so minutes, it takes up to 20 minutes to get to the stuff people want. Granted, the stuff they do show beforehand gets you invested into its story, but you wish that they either cut that part down a bit, or made the movie longer. While the action and story was great, I was always itching for one more action sequence. Just something more, but knowing how this is a partly Blumhouse-produced film, the budget wasn’t all that big, and they could only do so many action scenes. It just would have been nice, since the film repeats its structure after Grey gets STEM, and I personally felt like they could have added another action scene, due to how fun all of the action is. It makes you wonder what they could do with a sequel or spiritual successor to this film, if they set it up more in terms of John Wick Part 2’s pacing.

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Even despite all that, I found Upgrade to be one of 2018’s best surprises. It tackles its grimy sci-fi look perfectly, the action is some of 2018’s best, and the body-horror cybernetics that many of the characters have are effective. I wish it had a bit more action, and we got to the blood and grunge faster, but if you, for some reason, haven’t been able to see this film yet, definitely go buy it right now. I mean, if you are into this type of film. It’s a gory, bloody, pulpy, darkly comedic, and action-heavy ride that definitely wants me to yell “Play it Again, Cam!”