In Jumanji: The Next Level, the gang is back but the game has changed. As they return to rescue one of their own, the players will have to brave parts unknown from arid deserts to snowy mountains, to escape the world's most dangerous game. (from IMDb)
In the golden age of reboots, remakes and sequels, it wasn’t really a surprise that the 1995 adventure film Jumanji was given a sequel and soft reboot in 2017 with Welcome to the Jungle. The sequel actually picked up shortly after the end of the original story, morphing the original board game concept into an avatar-driven video game format. Instead of players potentially being sucked into Jumanji to live out their days until someone rolled the dice and freed them, now all players are sucked into the digital world, given the appearance and skills of a programmed digital character (AKA an avatar). The 2017 film leaned heavily on the comedic talents of the team they assembled, coupling it with the adventure aspects of the jungle setting and the inside jokes of life as a gamer. The formula worked wonders, and although I skipped seeing it in the theater, when I finally got around to seeing it last year, I was surprised at just how much fun it turned out to be.
Part of the fun is in seeing actors like Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black playing much different characters from their expected norm. For example, Johnson's usual machismo is used as a joke here as he's inhabited by the likes of a nerdy, insecure teenager named Spencer. Black, on the other hand was inhabited by a self-obsessed, smart phone-dependent teenage girl named Bethany. And, oddly enough, the two play their parts quite believably. Guardians of the Galaxy's Karen Gillan takes on the femme fatale role, while inhabiting the more self-conscious and timid Martha. And while it's still quite funny, it was less of a stretch to have a big, mouthy football player inhabit the more diminutive Kevin Hart. The foursome were a blast together, and I'm not at all surprised that, two years later, we have Jumanji: The Next Level.
Set a couple years after Welcome to the Jungle, The Next Level follows the four teenagers from the first outing as they're now making their way through life in college. The only one who seems to have trouble moving on is Spencer, and this leads him to pull out the remnants of the broken Jumanji video game and try to fix it. When his friends find that he's gone missing and he must have returned to the game, they decide to go in after him... but almost nothing is the same.
I revisited the first two films right before watching Jumanji: The Next Level, which both helped and hurt my viewing experience. At times, The Next Level just really felt like a retread and not nearly as fresh as its predecessors. However, the film goes to great lengths to try to spice things up, and switching avatars and taking them to new locations is how they try to accomplish this. It does work for the most part, but the uniqueness that Welcome to the Jungle had is definitely missing here. Still, introducing new characters is the key to keeping a franchise fresh and interesting, and bringing in Danny DeVito's Eddie as Spencer's grandfather, and Danny Glover as Eddie's estranged friend, Milo, adds a whole new level of comedic opportunities. Just seeing Johnson act like a grumpy and confused old man alongside the slow-talking and equally aloof Kevin Hart is comedy gold. The movie also knows when the joke has run its course, however, and switching things up again also helps to keep it fresh while bringing back what we liked about the previous entry.
The content is roughly on par with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, but there seemed to be an increase in moderate profanity and blasphemy this time around (with at least 7 uses of "g*dd*mn" and one of "Chr-st," sadly, as well as several uses of "Oh my G-d" and even "Oh L-rd"). The action is frequent but seldom gruesome, with the video game avatar characters often dying in a spray of red liquid before respawning. There are only a few sexual gags, including a bit where Kevin Hart's Mouse avatar must admit he's a eunuch (and therefore, has "no balls"), and Ruby Roundhouse once again is wearing a small and revealing outfit through most of the film -- but there are far less genital jokes this time around than in Welcome to the Jungle.
While The Next Level probably isn't nearly as good, or sharp, as Welcome to the Jungle, and it may feel like a little like it's here just for the box office haul, it's still an enjoyable and funny ride. The acting is solid, as it's great to see the avatar team playing different characters "inside" them throughout the film -- that may be the most fun part about this movie. But if you didn't like what the last Jumanji movie had to offer, there's a good chance you probably won't like The Next Level either.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 12/16/19)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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