MOVIE REVIEW: Jumanji: The Next Level

Finally… The Rock, has come back… to Jumanji!

Two years ago, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” released around Christmastime with relatively little hype and plenty of critical reluctance. It proceeded to shock the world with a nearly $1 billion box office haul. Audiences everywhere fell hard for contemporary changes that the sequel to Robin Williams’ 1995 film made – primarily the fact that its characters were stuck inside of a video game and not a board game, as in the original. The film also surprised by having its four primary characters – Spencer (Alex Wolff), Bethany (Madison Iseman), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), and Martha (Morgan Turner) inhabit the bodies of four avatars instead of playing the games as themselves. This gender-bending, personality-conflicting experience provided for hilarious comedy and the sequel does the same.

After saving Jumanji and returning to their lives with a new bond between them, the primary foursome has now graduated high school and are dealing with new challenges. Spencer and Martha are no longer dating and he, apart from the group due to attending college away from them in New York City, is experiencing a lack of confidence. In an effort to regain what he once felt while playing as Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Spencer pieces together the old broken console he’d kept hidden from his friends and makes the dangerous and reckless decision to go back inside of the game alone. Eventually, his crew follows him to Jumanji in an attempt to ensure he survives and bring him home, but Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his former restaurant co-owner Milo (Danny Glover) are accidentally sucked in as well.

Unfortunately for the returning players, not all goes as expected and they end up inhabiting different avatars than before. This fresh take allows for new interplay to exist between the foursome of Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, and Alex Wolff. I don’t want to spoil who ends up playing who, but both the chemistry between this group and their comedic talents shine as they portray different personalities than what you’ve seen before. It is simply a joy to watch them interact with one another, making this the kind of film you smile and laugh out loud throughout. 

The dynamic between Eddie and Milo is one of two old friends reconnecting after 15 years apart, trying to reconcile heated emotions around their different view of how their business venture ended, and it was my teenage son’s favorite part of the movie.  Whether it was the veteran comedy duo of DeVito and Glover or the hilarious way in which other actors portrayed their avatars as if they were those two, the age and physicality differences provided for fresh new comic material that was incredibly funny. Also making her first appearance in the series is Awkwafina, who continues to prove that she can do no wrong. Every scene she’s in is a treat, and the multiple characters she acts out are incredibly entertaining and hilarious.

“Jumanji: The Next Level” succeeds by once again reinventing its formula for a modern-day audience to great effect. The twist on who inhabits which avatar not only provides a wealth of humorous possibilities but some quality heartfelt moments of relationship building as well. Again the group is on an exciting adventure that takes them to interesting new locations and throughout the film, it is obvious the writers have looked to incorporate as many elements of current era action-adventure games as possible. In one sequence midway through, characters must retrieve a special item and to do so requires wall-running, jumping, and platforming that is heavily inspired by the Tomb Raider games. Later, during the film’s climax, a brilliant sequence includes characters activating unique player abilities, a full-on cinematic set-piece akin to what you’d see in the Uncharted video game series, and an awesome boss fight complete with multiple stages. There is even one moment toward the end of the film where a major action scene had me expecting giant buttons to pop up on the big screen, indicating a quick-time-event was taking place. Non-gamers may not recognize these elements being in the story, yet the film stands on its own just fine without that knowledge because it’s so much damn fun. And for those who do understand game design and can see the clever ways it is implemented in this sequel, it truly elevates “Jumanji” to “The Next Level”. 

If you go into this sequel expecting more of the same, you won’t be disappointed. This is a family-friendly adventure franchise that understands how to innovate while keeping the same creative tone that made it such a hit in the first place. Light on drama, heavy on action, with boatloads of fun and just enough emotional character development to make us care, “Jumanji: The Next Level” continues to break the Hollywood mold of disappointing reboots, remakes, and delayed sequels by providing an experience perfect for holiday enjoyment!

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 180: Hobbs & Shaw

This week we are a little faster than usual, and a lot more furious as we discuss the first spin-off in our beloved Fast and Furious franchise. Truth be told this is one of the least positive episodes of our show, as this film we were so very looking forward to just did not work for us, but we keep that positive honesty and talk about the things we did like, as well.

Hobbs & Shaw Review – 0:00:57

 

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MOVIE REVIEW: Hobbs & Shaw

I’m a huge, HUGE fan of the FAST AND FURIOUS series, so it doesn’t feel good to admit that HOBBS AND SHAW isn’t great. I enjoyed seeing this with my son, but the dialogue is cringe-worthy, “the feels” forced, and the action just okay. I left disappointed.


 

Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

FF+ High Flying Bird, Among Wolves, and Hobbs and Shaw

In this week’s episode of FF+ Aaron and Patrick review Steven Soderbergh’s new Netflix film, High Flying Bird, and Among Wolves, a documentary about a motorcycle club of Bosnian War vets defending a threatened herd of wild horses in their struggling small town. We also discuss our recent Fast and Furious marathon and react to the first Hobbs and Shaw trailer.

New For You (High Flying Bird & Among Wolves) – 0:01:45

Trailer Talk (Hobbs and Shaw) – 0:26:48

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Music: City Sunshine – Kevin MacLeod

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MOVIE REVIEW: Rampage

RAMPAGE (2018)

1 Hour and 47 Minutes (PG-13)

When you think of video games that would be prime material for a film adaptation, it is usually ones with strong story that come to mind. Rampage is based on no such game, but rather a series which began as a 1986 arcade game by Midway whose primary gameplay mechanic is simply giant monsters smashing buildings. To call this video game narratively sparse would be an understatement. Its world-building is simple: three humans are transformed by various means into monstrous creatures – George (an ape), Lizzie (a lizard), and Ralph (a wolf) – who must raze city after city to the ground before taking too much damage and reverting to human form. Not exactly a lot there to go on when writing a screenplay.

The story of Rampage the film expands on this sparse source material by setting up a world in which power corporation Energyne has developed a weaponized sort of DNA using a genetic editing drug called CRISPR. The film begins in space, where Energyne has its own gigantic private space station on which to conduct experiments, and the opening sequence sets the stage for what will come in more than one way. First, it’s extremely clear right away that Rampage will be a violent film. There is almost a horror-like quality throughout and though it’s full of humor, there is always a dark tone hanging overhead. The second thing this opening sequence tells us is that we can throw any expectations for realistic scenarios out the window as this is going to be a film that doesn’t take its story seriously. Much like the video game it is based on, the narrative here only exists to drive the monsters toward smashing and bashing as much and as often as possible.

The first animal to be accidentally infected by the mysterious drug from Project Rampage is George, an albino ape living in the San Diego Wildlife Preserve. George is a very smart gorilla and has a unique bond with primatologist Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson), who has raised him from birth and communicates with him through sign language. When George transforms into a violent genetically-edited rage beast and the government tries to step in and take control, Davis sets off to save his friend in the hopes of returning him to normal. It just so happens that Davis is ex-special forces military, of course, a convenience that certainly helps the plot along. Assisting Davis in his drive to return George to normal is Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), a scientist responsible for helping to create CRISPR who claims to have a cure. The two don’t only have to worry about George’s temper tantrums, though. Also in the mix is Agent Russell (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), representing the government and generally making the situation more complicated. Morgan’s portrayal of the mysterious agent is cowboy-like and quite similar to his role as Neegan in The Walking Dead. It is one of many eccentric performances in Rampage and how you respond to these caricatures will greatly inform your overall experience with the film.

The true villains (outside of the uncontrollable mutated wolf and lizard) are the Wyden siblings (Malin Ackerman and Jake Lacy) who run Energyne. Their performances are wildly over-the-top as Ackerman is chillingly cold, calculated, and intelligent while Lacy plays a buffoon scared to death of being caught and incapable of making tough decisions. Like most evil corporations in blockbuster movies, their goals seem financial in nature and they are willing to do anything to protect their assets.

When it comes to adaptation, Rampage is just about exactly what should be expected. The action is big, brutally violent, loud, frequent, and surprisingly bloody. Several callbacks to the original games exist and fans will enjoy seeing and hearing those. The story is filled with nonsensical decision-making, an absurdly inaccurate portrayal of the military, and plenty of “they shouldn’t have survived that” moments. It also has some heart, though, and viewers will be more emotionally impacted by George and Davis’ relationship than they anticipated. The key in all of this is the consistent undertone of humor throughout, because never does the film take itself too seriously. It knows exactly what kind of big-budget B-movie schlock it is and embraces it with open arms. And for those wondering, yes, there are sexual innuendo jokes because this is 2018 and Hollywood just can’t help themselves.

VERDICT

Despite it’s close to two-hour runtime, Rampage feels shorter due to a tight pacing that propels the story forward with frequent intense action. There is absolutely nothing of real depth here, but much like the video game it is based on, the fun is in watching giant monsters destroy stuff. The film is quite horrific with its violence and really pushes against that PG-13 rating, so younger children may be too terrified to enjoy it properly. Teens and adults, however, should have a LOT of fun with the mayhem these giant creatures cause, making Rampage worthy of at least one theater viewing.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (2017)

We live in a world of remakes, reboots, reimaginings and rebrandings. Sequels and franchises dominate the box office. If a studio sees any opportunity to squeeze a dime out of something you loved as a child, chances are it’s already in production. While they’re not all terrible, even the best of them are merely well-produced retreads that lack innovation and imagination. But every once in a while, a sequel or a reboot comes along that surpasses its source material with a fresh take that injects life into the property. This Christmas, we’re lucky enough to have one of those rare diamonds in the rough in Jake Kasdan’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a standalone sequel to the 1995 hit Jumanji, directed by Joe Johnston and starring Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt and a young Kirsten Dunst that spawned an animated television series and multiple video games. Boasting cutting edge CGI for its time, the film told the story of four players stuck in the middle of a mystical interactive board game where you win or you die. I’ve been excited for this film for a while due to my fond memories of the original and the casting of Dwayne Johnson in the lead role. Anyone who knows me knows that the easiest way to get me into a theater is to cast The Rock.

The film picks up almost exactly where the original left off in 1996 with the board game being discovered on a beach where it washed up after Robin Williams’ Allan Parrish attempted to bury it in the bottom of a river in 1969. The man who discovered the game gives it to his son Alex who has no interest in board games but is an avid video gamer. The game transforms itself into a video game and after we see some green flashing lights from outside Alex’s window, the film fast forwards to the present day where four high schoolers discover the video game while cleaning out an old storage room and they one by one get sucked into the world of Jumanji. Having been transformed into the bodies of their avatars (Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black), the four students must find a jewel that’s been stolen and return it to its sacred resting place before the perils of the jungle take their lives.

If the plot sounds simple, that’s because it absolutely is. There are a couple of mostly predictable twists and turns along the way, but this film works because of the solid chemistry of its cast. Continuing the on-screen chemistry that was forged in 2016’s surprising comedy Central Intelligence, Johnson and Hart play off of each other well and are the source of a lot of the film’s biggest laughs. Jack Black is as funny as he’s been in years as a self-obsessed teenage girl trapped in the body of a middle-aged man. Karen Gillan is perfectly awkward as an awkward teen suddenly trapped in the body of a stereotypical female video game heroine. The four of them clearly seem to be having a lot of fun together and each character is given their chance to shine.

There are a lot of films out there to see this time of year that will be mentioned come awards season. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is absolutely not one of those films. It’s ridiculous and over the top, but if I were making a list of the most enjoyable movies of the year, it would definitely be in the top five. I enjoyed the action, it made me laugh and there was a surprising emotional punch at the end that I didn’t see coming. If you’re wanting to go out with the family* to have a good time at the movies this holiday season, I have a hard time believing that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle would leave you disappointed.

Rating:

*This is a film with PG-13 humor unlike the original that catered to wider audiences. There is some content that might be objectionable to some with younger children. I’m glad I saw it on my own before taking my children who are all under the age of 12.


 

Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column.   Follow him on Facebook and Twitter  to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 054: The Fate of the Furious

This week we are podcasting a quarter-mile at a time with Dominic Toretto’s ever-expanding crew in The Fate of the Furious. Ever since Fast Five this series has been growing farther away from its racing roots and more toward full-blown action. Does the formula still work? Is this still a family we want to be part of? We dig in to to discuss what has made this franchise so successful.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:08

(Patrick – Arcade Fever: The Fan’s Guide to the Golden Age of Video Games)

(Aaron – Calvary, Your Name, The Last Jedi teaser trailer)

The Fate of the Furious Review – 0:37:10

The Connecting Point – 1:31:20

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Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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