A rip-roaring adventure fantasy

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, with Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan. Directed by Jake Kasdan. 4/5

AVATARS: The players in Jumanji, from left, Franklin ‘Mouse’ Finbar (Kevin Hart), Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Professor Sheldon ‘Shelly’ Oberon (Jack Black)

IT felt like there had been at least one other Jumanji movie in between the original starring Robin Williams in 1995, and this latest offering, but strangely this is the first sequel.

Set 21 years after the original, this Jumanji follows the same premise of a game that becomes reality for the players, although it is a stand-alone story.

Key to the plot is an incident in 1996, when a man jogging on a beach in New Hampshire stumbles across the Jumanji boardgame seen in the first film. He dusts it off and gives it to his teenage son, Alex, who is more interested in video games. The Jumanji boardgame lies neglected until the noise of drumbeats lures Alex to open it.

Fast forward to the present, and we learn that Alex disappeared 20 years ago, his haggard father now living like a recluse in their run-down house.

The house is a curiosity to teenager Spencer Gilpin, however, himself an avid gamer. Spencer feels he is losing the friendship of his longtime buddy, Anthony “Fridge” Johnson, a popular high school football player.

Caught out for writing essays as a favour for Fridge lands both of them in detention, along with self-centred cool girl Bethany Walker and the shy and gym-hating Martha Kaply, both of whom refused instruction from their teachers.

Assigned with the tedious task of unpicking the staples out of magazines for recycling, the four come across an old video game machine, which turns out to be an evolved version of Jumanji. The multi-player game allows them all to pick characters, after which they are magically sucked into the game.

The hilarity ensues when we see how the four become their unlikely alter-egos, with the nerdy Spencer transformed into the dashing, muscular explorer Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge into his diminutive sidekick, zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha into a gorgeous martial arts expert named Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Bethany into an overweight, male cartographer named Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black).

They soon realise that their characters come with strengths and weaknesses, and they each have three lives, just like video games.

Dangers lurk everywhere, lives start being lost and their only way out is to beat each level of the game and restore a jewel, the “Jaguar’s Eye”, to its rightful place.

It’s a fun story and a great cast. Dwayne Johnson is always an audience-pleaser, Kevin Hart is funny, Karen Gillan is the eye-candy and Jack Black is superb as the woman in a man’s body.

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