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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

The trouble with reboot movies is they often fail to recapture the essence of the original. They enter a kind of Icarus zone, hovering close, but either so similar to the original that they are boring, or so different they are unrecognisable.

Jumanji hits the nail right on the head.

The movie begins in the 90s, when that familiar ominous board game is discovered, and is also apparently sentient.
Upon “learning” how outdated board games are, Jumanji evolves to become a video game. Fast-forward to the present day, and four high schoolers are thrown together in detention, Breakfast Club-style. They find the game and are subsequently transported to the jungle world of Jumanji.

It’s here the film comes into its own, fully embracing traditional video game elements. Side characters appear, unable to speak more than the same five sentences and, most importantly, the four kids are transformed into their video-game avatars.

Nervous geek Spencer becomes muscle-bound Dr Bravestone, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. An enormous footballer named Fridge is shrunk down into the form of Kevin Hart’s zoologist (Mouse). Quiet and bookish Martha becomes butt-kicking femme fatale Ruby Roundhouse. Karen Gillian is amazing in this role, particularly when expressing her disgust at the impractically skimpy outfit she is wearing – another example of the film not only embracing but satirising classic video game tropes.

Of all the characters, it is self-assured selfie queen Bethany who receives the biggest shock, when she is transformed into cartographer Shelly Oberon – a male played by Jack Black. Black does a truly excellent job of playing a teenage girl. Hijinks ensue. But the stakes are also high. Although in the spirit of many video games the characters are given multiple lives, these are limited, and game over means game over.

The film is funny, clever, and action-packed. The actors all impress in roles they have likely never played before, and subtle nods to the first Jumanji give that nostalgic touch the fans will be looking for. MF

Four stars out of five

A regular-sized rose is a huge rarity in Downsizing 

The latest from Alexander Payne (Election, About Schmidt, Sideways), starring Matt Damon, is a brave concept, but several of the ingredients don’t quite gel.

Set further along on the climate-change train-wreck we’re inflicting on the planet, the latest solution is to “downsize”, or shrink to a fraction of regular human size, and move into a protected colony of tiny people.

Everything is cheaper in the tiny world, and many of those who choose to “go small” are made instant millionaires by the change. McMansions abound.

But, of course, the concept has its issues, including the rights of the tiny people and whether the world will actually change.

I expected more bizarre moments where big world meets small. But only one such contrast stands out, when Damon’s character Paul carries a regular-sized rose to a party.

Downsizing doesn’t change the day-to-day lives of those who take part. Cubicle desk jobs still exist, rampant consumerism still exists, poverty next to outrageous wealth still exists. Tiny doesn’t spell virtue.

The first third of this movie develops the concept well, but then a switch is flipped, and momentum is lost.
The biggest problem is the flip-flop between genres. One moment, we watch a kitchen spatula being used as a stretcher; then, suddenly, we’re getting a heavy lesson on the perils of climate change.

The change is so stark, it feels uncomfortable, almost as though the director discovered during shooting that climate change is really, truly, real, and decided to make the movie about that.

I thoroughly enjoyed the character Ngoc Lan Tran, a Vietnamese stowaway and activist who has had a leg amputated. Played by Hong Chau, an American actor of Vietnamese descent, this character is the film’s strongest. It’s refreshing to see a positive portrayal of Asian culture through a strong female role.

Beside her, Matt Damon’s Paul is a bore. Friends I spoke can’t decide whether that’s intentional or not, which says a lot.

An interesting idea, executed haphazardly. FT

Three stars out of five
Madeleine Fountain is a classics and media student at the University of Otago, Fiona Thomas is a journalist at New Zealand Doctor