Jumanji: The Next Level dutifully fulfills the sequel requirements of following the last installment Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle by basically delivering the same movie with minor changes. The difference between the original Robin Williams starring Jumanji and Jungle was pretty wide as it went from board game to videogame as Jungle had a lot of fun with the videogame and body swapping conventions that weren’t a part of the first film. The Next Level doesn’t take a dramatically different swing as Jungle did, it is really just another level and basically repeats a lot of the same beats and gags as before. Still, this is a breezy fun movie with lots of laughs, a solid cast, and some decent but very CGI–looking action. If one wants sort of the same movie again, Next Level is it.
A year after four kids escaped from the magical Jumanji videogame, Spencer (Alex Wolff) goes back into the game with his friends trying to save him. While Martha landed in her videogame avatar Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillian) just fine, the jock Fridge has landed in the tubby scientist Professor Shelly (Jack Black). Also unexpectedly along for the ride is Spencer’s grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) who has landed in the hero Bravestone (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Eddie’s former buddy Milo (Danny Glover) has landed in Mouse (Kevin Hart). Now the crew in their mismatched avatars have to get a gem from the evil Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann) to escape the game. But Bravestone and Mouse constantly asking questions and generally being befuddled by everything may endanger the entire crew.
The best thing about the movie is having The Rock and Hart play against type as they do fairly great impressions of DeVito and Glover. While Johnson sort of goes back to the same joke well of being high pitched and hard of hearing, he does get in some very funny moments as the old man version of Bravestone. When Eddie sees his reflection as Bravestone, he says that he looked like this when he was younger which Milo/Mouse immediately discounts as fiction. And while it is sort of the same gag as the last movie where the nerd realized his true powers as a hero character, it’s still funny to see the hero Bravestone be surprised that he can beat up bad guys easily. Bravestone the character has a heroic smoulder, but Eddie doesn’t know how to deploy it properly with Mouse saying that Eddie is having a stroke.
Hart as Milo/Mouse is also hilarious as Milo takes an incredibly long time to explain things which eventually leads to the characters getting in peril. Both Johnson and Hart are great as the unlikely old heroes which makes it kind of a bummer that the movie feels it has to revert the characters in the third act to their original personalities. That makes the climax seem even more like a redux of the last film, stripping away one thing that made it unique.
As in the previous movies, there is a wee bit too much time spent on the setup getting to know the kids’ interpersonal drama. What is more enjoyable in the real world is DeVito and Glover as the cranky old guys which sets up their in–game actions nicely. In the game, Gillian’s Ruby has some fun, frustrated reactions but her best stuff is when Ruby unleashes action mayhem with her dance fighting beat down powers. Black’s Professor is driven by the jock and he gets to holler about how being stuck in the weak guy is breaking his spirit. Eventually the missing Spencer shows up in the body of a new character, Ming (Awkwafina), and Awkwafina has some fun moments basically being irritated by everything. McCann as the bad guy is snarling a lot like he was as The Hound on Game of Thrones but McCann is quite good at snarling.
There is a lot repeated from before. Returning character Alex (Nick Jonas) shows up halfway through, seemingly because he was contractually obligated not that the story needed him. The notion that Non Player Characters keep repeating the same thing is still a good gag but now slightly less effective. Next Level features a ruckus of crazed CGI animals chasing the heroes which never quite looks real but it’s supposed to be a videogame so it gets a pass. The bad guys live in an icy castle with technologically advanced steampunk weapons which gives the third act a different setting than just deserts and shanty towns. It would have been fun if the movie went deeper into videogame conventions and clichés but it doesn’t add anything new. At least the film is consistently funny, if corny. It is a fairly zippy movie as things go careening from one chaotic mess to the next even though it’s probably thirty minutes too long.
Jumanji: The Next Level is a sturdy if rather uninspired sequel that replicates what made the original good without changing much. The near mandatory mid–credits sequel tease sets up yet another installment which actually could do something different if there is another Jumanji film. As it stands now, this is a lightweight family friendly action comedy that delivers exactly what is promised. V
Jumanji: The Next Level
Director: Jake Kasdan
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan