31 October 2010
Well, that's certainly a change of pace from what I've been watching lately.
The movie is a little too episodic, which has the effect of keeping the stakes low (though it does a reasonably good job of making the stakes feel higher than they are, if that makes sense... a clever cheat), but it's a smarter script than I expected, with a lot of nice moments throughout. And, since it's about a couple of brothers and their ostensibly complicated relationship as they are alone in a house and facing strange obstacles from outside, in a sense it's a perfect film for me to check out.
But Zathura is nothing if not a kid's movie, and though it has plenty of smart enough jokes to keep the adults entertained, it never tries to add adult-level peril or emotion or depth to the story. The relationship between Danny and Walter is kind of complicated, plotwise, but the emotions are pretty simple. Walter resents his little brother for dragging down all the fun and for taking away from his attention, and Danny resents his big brother for being good at stuff he's not and for not giving him a fair chance. They do some good stuff with it -- to be honest, I didn't see [SPOILER] the Astronaut turning out to be Older Water, even though it should have been obvious (having his older sister lust after him probably helped dissuade me from jumping to that conclusion; nice work, guys). But the relationship isn't much trickier to figure out than that, and the resolution is so easy it feels suddenly like a Disney film (it's Columbia Pictures, for what it's worth).
In defense of the picture, Jon Favreau takes all this and keeps it fresh, keeps it exciting, keeps it smart and fun, and the same mix of humor and action that he uses in the Iron Man films saves this from being Jumanji II: Jumanji In Space. Because let's face it, the very existence of Jumanji is a counterpoint to any criticism you might level against Zathura. Say what you will, but it's a jillion times better than Jumanji.