Philosofiction

Steve Bein, writer & philosopher

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Review: Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jumanji

In a daring move, Disney released its contribution to the series of Jumanji films just one week before the release of Columbia’s newest adaptation of the beloved children’s book. One might think two Jumanji films in a single month would be overkill, but this film sets itself apart from the others with a surprising twist: the appearance of Luke Skywalker.

It’s the Jedi Knight’s first appearance since J.J. Abrams’ The Force Awakens, and Mark Hamill gives a command performance. Die-hard fans were thrilled to see him appear in The Force Awakens, and Hamill himself said he was disappointed not to have a speaking role in that film. His appearance there was the Teaser to End All Teasers, and his surprise appearance in The Last Jumanji does not disappoint. He steals every scene he’s in, and we are left wishing the entire film were about him.

 A horsebunny, saddened upon learning Luke Skywalker would not be in any of its scenes.

A horsebunny, saddened upon learning Luke Skywalker would not be in any of its scenes.

Otherwise the movie delivers everything one would expect from a Jumanji movie: silly romps with giant CGI animals, a saccharine romance to keep pre-teens entertained, and cute children who step in as dei ex machina to save the day for our heroes. The children are endearing scamps in the style of Newsies, though instead of contributing to the plot they distract from it. Then again, anyone who wants to see yet another installment of a movie based on a nonexistent board game probably isn’t all that interested in plot.

What they come for is digitally rendered wildlife, and on that count The Last Jumanji does not disappoint. The lovable porg are the crossbreed of penguin and guinea pig that every youngster would love to keep as a pet. The vulpix are an exotic vision of what might happen if foxes evolved from rock candy. And the massive faithers, a cross between racehorse and pet bunny, are—disappointingly—the film’s action highlight.

The Last Jumanji needs their Disneyfied stampede because every other action sequence is a letdown. The agonizingly slow space-chase feels like Mad Max minus the action sequences and cool cars, and ultimately it distracts from the CGI critters that children come to see. It’s too hard for kids to follow the obscure storyline of Finn and Rose, which ultimately has no bearing on the film. Now and then they ram a spacecraft full speed into something-or-other—hoping it will save lives, strangely enough—but apart from these gratuitous thrills, the two add nothing to the film. In fact, if their scenes were cut out entirely, literally nothing about the plot would change.

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In the end, most adults will find Rian Johnson’s contribution to the Jumanji film universe scattered and disappointing. But children will delight in the furry fun-fest and die-hard Star Wars fans will get thrill after thrill from Luke Skywalker, who hasn’t spoken a word since 1983’s Return of the Jedi. He is arguably the most eagerly anticipated character in film history, and Hamill delivers what may well be the single greatest performance of his career. The Jedi Master truly is masterful.

For that reason the film is aptly—if boldly—titled. This may well the last Jumanji, despite the fact that the fourth installment in the series opens just six days after this film’s release. It is unlikely that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson can outshine Hamill’s command performance with nothing more than his trademark eyebrow-raise. Rian Johnson and his fantasy hybrids clear the (admittedly low) bar set by the Jumanji franchise, but it is Luke Skywalker who sets the standard by which all future Jumanjis must be measured.

C-