“A game for those who seek to find a way to leave their world behind.”
Don’t get me wrong, I do really love Star Wars. I’ve loved having a new one each year, and adore the tradition I have of seeing it twice in a week – first with two of my closest friends from uni, then with my family. But… they’re not quite Christmas films are they? And I don’t mean Christmas in the sense of having a festive narrative or featuring a wampa in a Christmas jumper – I mean thematically. Over the years there’s a particular type of film we like to watch with our nearest and dearest over the holidays, and crowd around the tv in the manner our long-ago ancestors perched around the fire. They’re adventure movies, tales of brave deeds, hero’s journeys at their most literal.
Today the Christmas edition of Radio Times came out – although I’m yet to peruse it I’m pretty sure it’s a safe bet to say that Indiana Jones will undoubtedly have numerous outings, Harry Potter & co will unquestionably make an appearance, E.T will phone home and The Goonies will be back looking for treasure. Those are what I think of when I think of festive watching (after the compulsory watching of both Elf and Muppets Christmas Carol). And, truly surprisingly, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle may just have joined that list.
That’s because it knows what kind of film it wants to be, an action-adventure movie with heart, takes it seriously and is unashamed of doing so. It could have easily been so bad and so cheesy – four teenage archetypes taking on vastly different personas whilst trying to survive the video game they’ve entered. But because everyone and everything about the film commits to the premise- well, it really works.
Dwayne Johnson (who lost a fair bit of kudos with me after the dismal Baywatch) pulls things back with a superb performance as reclusive teen Spencer. He perfectly captures teen-Spencer’s (Alex Wolff) nervous ticks and wonderfully plays out the story of someone learning to be that bit less scared of the world around him. His on-screen rapport with Kevin Hart is just as good as it was in Central Intelligence – they bounce fantastically off each other and lend themselves to some truly laugh out loud moments. Karen Gillan provides a solid performance as excruciatingly shy Martha and has two stand out scenes. One involves the very memorable usage of Big Mountains’ cover of Baby I Love Your Way.
Her other most memorable moment involves the film’s MVP – Jack Black. As image-obsessed teenage drama girl Bethany it would have been all-too easy for him to phone in the performance, too over play it and turn in a total caricature. What we get instead is one of his best performances in years, one that’s both funny and meaningful. There’s a surprising amount of depth in his characterisation and the performance comes across as truly heartfelt – which is true of all the central performances. As are the film’s truly lovely messages about living life to the fullest and the necessity of self-belief.
That’s not to say the film isn’t funny – both the six and ten laugh tests were passed with ease. But I’m not going to spoil them here, I’ll them for you to discover for yourself. This is a film for all the family and it’s a whole lotta fun.