“Jumanji: The Next Level” stars Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Danny DeVito, and Danny Glover. Released on December 13, 2019, the film has a group of teenagers re-entering the world of Jumanji in order to rescue their friend.
The film is directed by Jake Kasdan, who also directed films such as “Orange County”, “Bad Teacher”, and “Sex Tape”. It is the fourth installment in the “Jumanji” franchise. Well, looks like we got ourselves a rematch between a film from a popular sci-fi franchise and a film about a group of teenagers who got stuck in a video game. Bring on the boxing gloves! About a couple of years ago, Sony announced a remake of the classic family film “Jumanji”, which was later classified as a sequel that transforms the magical board game into a magical video game console. It was met with a lot of negative backlash from people who grew up with “Jumanji”, which is very common when it comes to revisiting classic films via sequels, remakes, and/or reboots. However, when it made its debut five days after the release of the highly divisive installment in the “Star Wars” franchise, “The Last Jedi”, it surprisingly proved the naysayers wrong by gaining plenty of good reviews and becoming a huge box office hit for Sony. It even became the studio’s highest-grossing film domestically, beating out Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man”. Not bad for a sequel to a 90s classic. Due to its success, we now have another trip into the world of “Jumanji”. I really enjoyed the heck out of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” not just because of its hilarious cast, but also because of its execution. It gave the first film’s concept a major upgrade for the modern age and had fun playing around with it by including some clever video game references and likable characters that somehow reminded me of “The Breakfast Club”. Plus, it’s a huge improvement over Jake Kasdan’s other film, “Sex Tape”, which I am not a fan of in case you are wondering. His involvement in “Jumanji” was pretty much an apology to me for making that embarrassing mess of a film, which I humbly accepted. So now he’s back in the director’s chair to make this level as fun and adventurous as the last one. Would he be able to pull it off?
Taking place a year after the events of “Welcome to the Jungle”, one of the main characters, Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), is secretly repairing the Jumanji video game system. Why? Because his anxiety is acting up…again. During the process, he gets sucked in to the video game world…again, so now it’s up to his friends Martha (Morgan Turner), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), and Bethany (Madison Iseman) to retrieve him and escape Jumanji….again. Based on their previous experiences, this mission should be a piece of cake, right? Well, this is where things get a little…interesting. In addition to getting a new quest from the NPC game guide Nigel Billingsley (Rhys Darby), they also have to deal with some issues involving their in-game avatars as well as Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (DeVito) and his former friend Milo (Glover), who inadvertently joined in on the fun. Now what do I mean when I said issues involving the avatars? Well, if you watched the trailers, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, let’s just say that this is what happens when your friend chooses your favorite video game character and has no clue how to master it. Similar to “Welcome to the Jungle”, “The Next Level” explores the concept of Jumanji being a classic old-school video game instead of a board game. Along with some usual game references, the film added something new to the mix in order to keep this concept fresh and exciting, most notably the main characters in different avatars, with the exception of Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan). Now we have Danny DeVito in Dwayne Johnson’s body, Danny Glover in Kevin Hart’s body, and Ser’Darius Blain in Jack Black’s body. I don’t want to list the rest because I don’t want to ruin any more surprises for you readers. Like most sequels, this one has a “been there, done that” scenario that’s impossible to ignore, but for those who don’t mind it, it’s an entertaining follow-up that’s just as playable as its predecessor. It took the core elements that worked in “Welcome to the Jungle”, sprinkle in some changes here and there, and boom! You got yourself a second helping of Jumanji a la carte. One of those elements is the cast, most particularly the ones that portrayed the avatars. What I liked about the avatars in “Welcome to the Jungle” was how they act like the human players from the real world, especially Jack Black’s character, who was one of the main highlights of the film in my opinion. “The Next Level” has them doing the same routine, but with Johnson and Hart acting like DeVito and Glover respectively, and unsurprisingly, I wasn’t disappointed with the final result. I also enjoyed the addition of Awkwafina as Ming Fleetfoot, a new avatar for “Jumanji”. Aside from DeVito’s running gag running out of steam halfway through, the cast was just as fun and hilarious as I thought they would be. The film also did wonders in portraying its suitable set pieces and some entertaining action. Rather than having the action take place in the jungle like the last film, it expands the Jumanji world by placing the characters in the desert, the oasis, and the snowy mountains, which I thought was pretty cool. As for the story itself, I respect that it recaptures the humor and the heart that made its predecessor work, although it did have some glitches that prevented it from getting a new high score. Like I mentioned before, the film did have some plot elements that were similar to the ones from “Welcome to the Jungle”, including the strained friendship between Eddie and Milo, which resembled the broken friendship between Spencer and Fridge at the beginning of its predecessor. However, the direction the filmmakers took for those elements was able to keep it from being a complete rehash of “Welcome to the Jungle”. The film also suffered a bit from its villain. Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann) is the new antagonist that the main characters are facing in the sequel. He’s a warlord who stole a magical necklace known as the Falcon’s Heart that provides fertility to the lands of Jumanji. I happened to like Jurgen a bit more than Russell Van Pelt from the last film because he has a strong connection to Spencer’s avatar, Dr. Smolder Bravestone. However, the story didn’t really take full advantage of this situation and wound up creating another generic villain that needs to be stopped. This is quite a shame to me because with a villain like Jurgen, it would’ve made the stakes really high for the main characters, but instead, we got ourselves another final boss that’s easier to defeat. I still enjoyed the story for what it is. I just wished that they made these elements a bit more exciting than what we got now.
Overall, it wasn’t able to set a new high score for the franchise, but “Jumanji: The Next Level” respectively relies on the power-ups from its predecessor to complete its primary objective. Despite its approach into familiar territory and its villain, the film was able to once again deliver the laughs and the fun largely due to its cast, an enjoyable story, and the action. It’s actually quite amazing that Sony has two “Jumanji” sequels that were as good as the original. Usually, most sequels tend to falter compared to their predecessors that came out a decade ago. Luckily, this film and “Welcome to the Jungle” were able to prove to us that some long-awaited sequels can work with the right people behind and in front of the camera. Here’s hoping that it can also get a good sequel out of “Ghostbusters” next year.