Jumanji: The Next Level REVIEW – A Fun, Entertaining Encore

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Jumanji: The Next Level

When Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle was announced, coming not too long after the passing of Robin Williams, the star of the fondly regarded 1994 original, there was certainly trepidation from the masses. Would this film just end up being a mediocre sequel that would sully his legacy? Fortunately, the comedic talent of the cast carried the 2017 feature to win most over. For the most part, Jumanji: The Next Level repeats the trick and adds a few strings to its bow.

The cast remains the same, the gang of high-school kids from Welcome To The Jungle now first-year students in college and adapting to their new lives with varying levels of success. Spencer (Alex Wolff) and Martha (Morgan Turner) are in a rough patch in their relationship, but the promise of coming home for the holidays offers hope of reconnecting. When Spencer returns, his mother is caring for his grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito), who has been ignoring the efforts of his old friend Milo (Danny Glover) to make amends for past differences. When Spencer goes missing, apparently sucked back into Jumanji, his friends follow to find and rescue him.

Inadvertently joining them are the two older men, allowing the primary adult cast to switch their roles and flex slightly different comedic muscles, to varying effect. Kevin Hart finds himself embodying Danny Glover’s slow, deliberate and measured Milo. Dwayne Johnson is tasked with recreating Devito’s motormouth incredulity at the situation. Kevin Hart’s comic timing is superb, with the approaching danger, which he explains painfully slowly, paced well by director Jake Kasdan to amplify the overall comedic effect. Jack Black, fulfilling multiple roles within his singular appearance, ably demonstrates why he continues to be the Hollywood go-to for exaggerated comedy.

Dwayne Johnson is more visibly out of his comfort zone, doing better when evoking the disconnect between brawny man-mountain and old man confusion than when he has to engage in extended dialogue. Karen Gillan – the only adult who is genuinely reprising the same role in what is essentially a body-swap comedy – provides an effective straight(er) figure for the others bounce off. The real standout addition is Awkwafina; within the game world she is thief Ming Fleetfoot but plays more than one role from the ‘real world’ cast. Her addition is a welcome shake-up of the formula compared to the previous film.

The addition of older characters to the mix allows the story and interactions to be kept a little bit fresher than a simple retread. Where the previous film found some heart in evoking the struggle of teenagers to express themselves and fulfill potential, this new entry also addresses how you deal with the idea of your best achievements being in the past. In both Eddie and Spencer, the film warmly addresses the need to adapt continuously and to reach out to people for help. It’s not the most nuanced depiction of this theme that will ever be committed to screen, but it adds much-needed colour to the character motivations.

Not everything lands and, in particular, the jokes about the older men’s inability to understand what is going on wears thin early on. Their confusion then conveniently disappears and returns according to whether the script needs a joke at that moment or not. The set pieces are not particularly engaging or perilous-feeling, and while it’s fun to see Rory McCann snarl around as the villainous Jurgen the Brutal, he is mostly as forgettable as Bobby Cannavale was in the previous film. A lot of these can be excused based on the video game tropes made flesh in this modern Jumanji, but it can only be justified for so long before it perhaps becomes a crutch for not doing more.

There is a hint towards at least one more sequel as the film ends. Although another successful entry can’t be ruled out based on The Next Level’s fresher elements, it’s unlikely the same trick could be repeated a third time. The film primarily functions as a fun and entertaining encore to Welcome To The Jungle. There isn’t really a next level to be found, even if there was more to be wrung from the formula.

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Jumanji: The Next Level
The Next Level shakes things up enough to get a little bit more out of its comedically accomplished cast. The cracks start to appear, but still allows for a fun and entertaining second entry.