Back in 2017, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle
became the biggest surprise package at the box office, going mano a mano against Star Wars: The Last Jedi
and earning almost a billion dollars while at it. And while betting on the franchise once again in 2019, Sony/Columbia Pictures is releasing Jumanji: The Next Level a week before Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker again - superstition or plain coincidence it's hard to day, but it won't be surprising if the outcome is the same.
Director Jake Kasdan is helming this project, too, hoping to emulate the success that its predecessor enjoyed. He introduces more characters this time, and explores more elements of video games. The kids have gone their separate ways after the events of the first movie - Spencer (Alex Wolff) is struggling with loneliness in New York, Martha (Morgan Turner) is enjoying life at college with her new-found confidence, Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain) is more into football than ever before, and Bethany (Madison Iseman) is travelling the world. Whatsapp group chats clue us into their planned meeting on the holidays, but circumstances whisk the kids back into the world of Jumanji, this time with Spencer's grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his estranged friend Milo Walker (Danny Glover) in tow.
The malfunctioning game doesn't let anyone pick their characters this time around, and only Martha retains her previous avatar, of Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). The team has to not only clear the game's objective now, but also locate the missing Spencer whose avatar they have no clue about. Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) is leading the charge again, but not quite in the way you expect.
Sequel fatigue is the biggest fear we as an audience have with big-budget Hollywood productions. Jumanji: The Next Level, though, faces no such issue, thank you very much. It is a straightforward story about overcoming hardships together, and gives you the whole blockbuster package that you have come to expect in the Marvel era of comic action films.
Humour is once again at the forefront, with a lot more jokes being thrown in this time. To its credit, though, The Next Level sticks the landing here - even going as far as to make Kevin Hart's overbearing brand of comedy agreeable. There's also plenty of action scenes, but they are choreographed more awkwardly this time around due to the role swapping, leading to some unpredictable hilarity. The two new old-timers' complete inability to grasp what video games are, is the one running gag that you'll thoroughly enjoy.
The other strength of this film is the fresh new way existing characters are dealt with, with clever usage of the over-arching plot to justify the reshuffle. The talented cast is able to switch their dialogue delivery with ease, with Professor Oberon (Jack Black) being especially delightful. Add new locations and new levels to the mix, and you have a whole new adventure that relies only slightly on the existing framework.
The action is hardly gripping - The Next Level is more successful as a comedy. We see an ostrich chase, then a mandrill chase, and then a human chase, which feels repetitive at best. The gags are splendidly good-natured, which further exposes the glaringly average action sequences. It's hardly an edge-of-the-seat affair, but we still could have done with a bit more of The Rock flexing his muscles.
Also, the plot gets a bit muddled in the middle, with the two elder gentlemen's rift taking a large chunk of the run time. You get the feeling of disjointment as the aforementioned emotional conflict between Eddie and Milo is glaringly unrelated to the rest of the gang's shenanigans.
The entire cast plays off of each other, and nobody does it better than Dwayne Johnson. Johnson is a reliable investment in his segment of wholesome, family entertainment, and the Jumanji franchise is no exception. Kevin Hart is almost bearable, especially when toned down due to the large cast around him. Jack Black is easily the most fun - he is equally comfortable with being the jock and the cheerleader. Karen Gillan has some fantastic sequences, her flashy role reversal bits with Jack Black a highlight.
The teenagers don't have much of a presence (outside of the first few minutes). Neither do the two elderly gentlemen - Danny DeVito's grumpy grandpa act is endearing, though. Nick Jonas has precious little to do, so does new villain Rory McCann. Awkwafina is the new avatar introduced in Jumanji: The Next Level, but the movie script doesn't give her much to work with.
Henry Jackman comes on board again for the score, and you get familiar fare - the jungle music, the snow-covered mountain music, the music that symbolises the thrill of the chase... - and it remains nothing to write about. The visuals are also average, the lacklustre CGI and the abundant chase sequences leading to a feeling of similarity throughout that the movie doesn't quite manage to shake off.
Jumanji: The Next Level, retains a lot of the signature elements that made the previous movie so enjoyable. It ends up adding precious little new or intriguing, but tides over that with an ensemble cast that has great comic timing. Watch it for Johnson's signature charisma, for Gillan's nunchucks, for Black's versatility, or for Awkwafina masquerading as Danny DeVito. Kick back and relax - the expansion pack to this action video game is equally enjoyable.