Welcome to the jungle!…er…the next level I mean!
Set three years after original protagonists, Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blaine), Martha (Morgan Turner), and Bethany (Madison Iseman) found a way to beat Jumanji and escape back to the real world, Jumanji: The Next Level sees the same group of friends head back into the virtual game, but with a twist: Spencer’s grandfather and overall stubborn but endearing guy, Eddie (Danny DeVito), and his estranged best friend looking to reconnect, Milo (Danny Glover), are accidentally sucked into Jumanji with them! Now, with new players taking control of the familiar avatars of Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Franklin Finbar (Kevin Hart), Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black), and Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), the stakes are higher than ever before as they are forced to play – and at all costs win – another round of Jumanji, or risk never being able to return to their real lives ever again!
Much like the last film, Jumanji: The Next Level is pure, unabashed, popcorn entertainment that continues the smart trend of acknowledging the original Robin Williams film without trying to replicate it. With a returning cast that is as game as ever for the wild shenanigans put forth by the script, this sequel stands on solid footing throughout by giving audiences more of the same, but in the best way possible.
From some genuinely enjoyable and explosive action beats, to some great, mostly hit (sometimes miss) comedy bits, to a handful of interesting reveals and changes in story direction that I appreciated more than I expected, this film clearly knows it’s at its best when adhering to the last film’s established formula and running with it like it’ll never get old. Luckily for the filmmakers, that formula still holds up, and by slightly tweaking the original’s plot where a bunch of unfamiliar teenagers embody game avatars that essentially force them to see themselves and each other from a different, more understanding perspective, this film is able to continue that through line successfully, just with a new set of characters.
The idea of old men reliving their youth inside of avatars that are more well equipped versions of themselves to in turn see things from a better perspective and grow as humans, is just as worth exploring as the emotional core from the first film was. And while I have my issues with some of this stuff and the way The Rock played his character this time around, (that terrible accent, I can’t…*face palms and shakes head*) the built in emotional value of this idea alone is great to watch unfold, keeping the warm heart from the last film intact and beating stronger than ever. I won’t say that it’s all done perfectly or even all that subtly, but everyone involved seems to understand that while this might just be a mindless popcorn flick at times, there’s no reason why you can’t do right by your characters when the action dies down.
About as good as the first with a few more added wrinkles to make it slightly more enjoyable overall, Jumanji: The Next Level continues the rebooted series in a way that doesn’t take any real chances or risks with the material, but doesn’t squander it either. The set pieces are fun and fast, the comedy solid and constant, and the heart of the story real and beating, allowing the filmmakers to craft a film that succeeds more than it falters. Although the “actors playing other actors” shtick still works most of the time, The Rock is noticeably the weakest link in that regard (with Jack Black coming in a close second), which is slightly disheartening since it’s usually the complete opposite for both. Either way, fans of the last film will find no problem enjoying this one, so bring on the inevitable third chapter, just don’t call it Jumanji: Game Over. That’s just lazy!