Directed and co-written by Jake Kasdan, Jumanji: The Next Level stars Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black as the four video game characters that inhabit the world of Jumanji, possessed now by a completely different combination of the group from the first film, including Eddie (Danny DeVito) and Milo (Danny Glover). For some reason the game is back, and crazier than ever, so the group must navigate the next level and find a way to be reunited just like before.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a pleasant surprise back in 2017, not only being a reboot-sequel to a well-liked 1995 film that was better than said predecessor, but also for telling a good story with fun characters and playing with the ideas of video games on film in a fresh fashion. It then went on to gross nearly $1 billion worldwide, sucking a lot of the air out of Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s box office performance, so of course a sequel was greenlit. Same cast, with a few additions like DeVito, Glover and Awkwafina, but with a few differences to keep things fresh. Does it all work? Well, sort of?
It’s pretty fun at first to be watching Dwayne Johnson now acting as if Danny DeVito is playing him, with an over-the-top New York accent and old-man humour, and the same goes for Kevin Hart having to act as if Danny Glover is playing as his character. Karen Gillan is still the same, playing the nervous Martha (Morgan Turner) again in the body of kickass Ruby Roundhouse, while Jack Black gets a few new things to do as Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) inside the body of rotund cartographer Shelly Oberon, but that’s really where the changes kind of stop. There’s a few mix-em-ups later on with more characters added and switching bodies, and while all the actors are doing great jobs playing these characters who change personas rapidly, it doesn’t really match the sheer fun of Jack Black playing a teenage girl or Dwayne Johnson being a nervous teen in the body of The Rock like before.
Even the world of Jumanji, while extended and more fleshed out with new locations beyond the jungle, doesn’t feel as exciting or even dangerous. The hordes of animals or evil henchmen are easily dealt with in a matter of minutes each, and the visuals effects feel less refined and just bigger, lacking some of the nuances from before. It’s not a massive downgrade, it just doesn’t have some of the impact the first film had, particularly in practical action sequences.
What’s maybe the most annoying part of The Next Level is that it never really seeks to make this world feel bigger. This is a sequel that, on the poster and in the press circuits, market itself as “next” and “more”, the world is bigger now because it isn’t just the jungle. There’s more characters so everything feels expansive right? Well, no. Our four main characters get lost in the shuffle of playing in different avatars, with the old man jokes about DeVito and Glover’s characters inside the bodies of Johnson and Hart getting old pretty quick, and in this movies mad rush to be bigger than before, it does too much. When I say that the world should be bigger, that means we shouldn’t be doing the same “people inside the avatars” joke, because that was already done before. Just because there’s two new locations doesn’t mean it feels bigger, instead it just feels like a mandated effort to appear different than before. This is the same thing, just not as fun.
That’s really all I can honestly say about Jumanji: The Next Level: same thing, not as fun. The jokes are basically the same, except they keep changing because the avatars keep switching possession, so there’s little consistency. The camerawork and colourisation is still the same, which is decent seeing as both of these movies do look good, Henry Jackman’s score still doesn’t feel all that exceptional, the action sequences are mostly rote and by-the-numbers, and the big emotional crux of the story is decent, but still pales in comparison to what happened before. There’s a couple of interesting surprises, but it’s sprinkled into a generic sequel in Jumanji: The Next Level that might prove the last film to be a bit of a fluke.
Director: Jake Kasdan
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan
Writers: Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, (based on the book “Jumanji” by Chris Van Allsburg)