I’ve always loved the movie Jumanji, although I’m definitely aware of its problems. And as always, I’m an eternal optimist when it comes to reboots—but I’ve already got a few concerns about this one.
Let’s start with the things I think are interesting, though, before we dig into the issues. One thing for sure is the idea of four completely different kids finding the Jumanji game. I have always wished that more stories would take this direction when “rebooting”—rather than leaning on existing characters or plots, picking up elsewhere in the same world with a whole new cast and story. (Like, what would someone else’s experiences be after, say, finding a death note? Or contracting with a demon butler? Just to suggest a few?) And while I’m sure hands were tied in this particular instance by the tragic and untimely death of Robin Williams, it’s still nice to see them trying to tell a new and different story. With a set of four new hapless adventurers and an old-timey game console instead of a board game, it opens the world up to a bunch of new possibilities, including going into the game instead of the game coming out into the real world. While I do think that it would have been possible to do this with the original game instead of a video game, I don’t have any huge problems with the change either.
It also improves on some of the issues from the classic movie. One of the biggest issues of the original movie was its race problem, with only one man of color being featured (who suffered from iffy characterization). This one starts out with a leg up already given that half the cast is made up of men of color, both in the real world and in the game world, including my love Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson as the dashing hero. Since they’re actually in the game world this time, I hope that if they do decide to include native people in this jungle, they do right by them as well.
The reboot doesn’t do as great in terms of gender, though, and that’s where my biggest concern lies. While the high-schooler cast is gender balanced, the running joke of the movie is that the snooty popular girl picks the “curvy” character from the character select—who turns out to be a fat guy character rather than the bodacious lady she was hoping for. This leaves the only female game character as Karen Gillan’s Ruby Roundhouse, a Lara Croft-esque adventurer. I know that to some extent the movie wants to poke fun at and subvert some video game tropes here, but I’m not holding my breath for it to be done super sensitively; between making her character both a Smurfette in the game group and giving her a needlessly sexy design, it feels a bit more like they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too.
And I am afraid to even get started on the “curvy” guy character, because the entire character throughline there seems to be “comedy based on a hot girl being trapped in a non-hot guy’s body” and “making fun of shit teen girls say”. There’s so much to unpack here that I’d be opening metaphorical suitcases for days if I went into it all, but suffice it to say that I don’t trust this movie to do anything remotely progressive with this particular storyline.
Does that mean I’m not going to see this movie? I… honestly haven’t made up my mind yet. This is only one trailer, and the film itself doesn’t come out till December. Let’s leave it down to “if I have enough money after seeing Star Wars: Episode VIII eight hundred times” for right now, I suppose.
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This will be a “wait until it’s on HBO/DVD, etc.” one for me…it looks intriguing enough, but they chose Jack Black to play their “non-consensually trans as comic relief” character, which tells you what they were thinking. In its own way, sadly, I suspect some folks might see that as “progress” of a sort…rather than getting laughs from a jock becoming a woman, instead it’s a conventionally attractive stereotypically-popular-in-school woman becoming a not-conventionally attractive but implied smart man, which has some real possibilities for being usefully subversive, but likely those won’t be followed-through upon due to the sort of film this is going to be. Nonetheless, one can hope…
And I, too, am more excited about The Last Jedi than I probably should be, but I’ll also see it at least twice in the cinema, I expect, in December, and am looking forward to such incredibly!