I’ve been wanting to see this movie (the new one with Dwayne Johnson (“The Rock“), Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black. I finally got it for Christmas. Outside of one small issue, I think that it was a very fun and enjoyable movie. It has the right amount of humor and action. While it is ostensibly about being inside a “video game,” there’s very little CGI even though they do make fun of several overused tropes in the video game/gamer community. They even manage to touch on the idea of “lives” in a meaningful way that is both thoughtful and inspiring.
Fun Movie (and Funny too!)
So, at its heart, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a fun movie that leans into its idea of being a game/video game. The characterization makes sense (with one exception) and the chemistry between the actors really helps to sell the script. The story is isn’t revolutionary, but it doesn’t need to be–it is the characters and their interactions that is at the heart of the movie. Once they get into the game world, then it’s the opposition between their inherent real-world characteristics and their in-game characteristics that provide the humor and the double-layered characterization. It works well–although as noted, there is one problematic element kept me from enjoying it as fully as I might have wanted.
To be clear, however, I liked the movie, especially the action, comedy, script, and actors.
The Messages (Themes) Were at Odds With What was Presented on the Screen.
So, there are several messages playing though out the film. The main one is that you should be true to yourself as you only get one life and you should try to make the most of that life–exemplified by the two main characters being encouraged to act on their burgeoning “romance” in the real world. This is backed up by the fact that both the “female” characters (you’ll want to see the movie if you haven’t already to see why female is in quotation marks) bond and push the idea of “girl power” forward. I have no problem with this subplot & theme and it works well in the story.
No, the problem I have is with the guys. While I’m fine with the squabbling of the two initially based on the reversal of their formal relationship, I’m much less enamored with the idea/intimation that the African American character is “poor in school” and only loves “sports” and “needs someone else” to do “his schoolwork for him” in order to pass. That is a stereotype that is definitely at odds with the feel good “one life to live so make the best of it” theme that the movie wants to push. It is also detrimental as it (continues) to promote the idea that African American males are one-dimensional, non-scholastic creatures who are only interested “in gaming” the system (esp. the educational system).
While personal experience is not nearly as strong as experiential data, I can say with confidence that this is a stereotype that simply needs to die. Not even using me as an example, I can think of the star basketball player in my high school whose grades were as high as mine (probably higher in the freshman and sophomore years as it took me a while to adjust to not being one of the smartest people in the school anymore when I got to the high school level). I have to say that this one choice, while setting up an oppositional dynamic, did NOT ring true (nor was in keeping with the story’s tone–yes, I know you needed a “detention” scene, but there are many other ways to get there (telling the teacher the assignment is stupid or simply stating that you are going to do it at all are two surefire ways of getting to that detention scene.
In a movie as good as this one was, this type of lazy storytelling and characterization irked me, but ultimately, it wasn’t enough to sink it for me.
Overall Grade: B
While it should probably be lower because of the lazy stereotyping, I liked the characterization and rise of Karen Gillan’s character, the humor, the action, and the overall story construction enough to forgive (or at least minimize) the characerization of the African American male as a “poor student” who needs “help” (i.e., “cheating”) in order to pass. Had not the Karen Gillan section been in it, I probably would have scored it lower. Still, looking past that one faux pas, I found it to be an enjoyable movie.
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