A film for those who seek to find a way to leave their world behind…for a while, at least.
The year 2017 saw the release of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a reboot of, and semi-sequel to, 1995’s Jumanji, which itself was an adaptation of the book by Chris Van Allsburg. In Welcome to the Jungle, the life-threatening board game took the form of a video game, and physically transported four players, Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Bethany (Madison Iseman), and Martha (Morgan Turner) into the game world of Jumanji. In the form of their respective character avatars, the characters went on a quest to find a stolen jewel and put it back in its place to save Jumanji and exit the game. The film turned out to be a gigantic surprise hit that struck a chord with audiences, so a sequel was inevitable.
Jumanji: The Next Level picks up one year after the events of Welcome to the Jungle, with the four friends meeting up during the holiday season for brunch. All show up except for Spencer, who, to the others’ surprise, had salvaged the previously demolished Jumanji game and re-entered in. The others reluctantly decide to play and re-enter themselves to help rescue Spencer. Not only that, but the game has also somehow sucked in Spencer’s grandfather, Eddie, as well as his estranged friend, Milo. Together, the comrades must find Spencer, retrieve a new missing jewel, and save Jumanji all over again.
A more proper title for this film would be “Jumanji: Continue?,” because much of this film feels exactly like Welcome to the Jungle without the surprise factor. That is not necessarily a fault if one found the first movie enjoyable, as a lot of people did. It would be wise, however, not to expect a film like this to be groundbreaking, or do much else outside of playing the hits.
The main highlight of Welcome to the Jungle was seeing the actors in the game world (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, and Nick Jonas), emulating their real life players, mostly because the actors were playing against type, particularly Dwayne Johnson (emulating a teenage boy) and Jack Black (imitating an Instagram-obsessed teenage girl). They looked like they were having fun doing this, and audiences responded positively. The trailers for the sequel showed that this would happen again, only that the players and avatars have been switched this time around, and each avatar actor will be doing different impressions.
The film deliver for the most part, as the actors mostly pull off good impressions, although some of the voices they use feel forced at times. The real standout this time around is Kevin Hart, whose imitation of Danny Glover is so spot-on that it helps remind audiences that when given the right material, Hart can really show his comedic chops. One of the newcomers to the main ensemble cast of avatars is Awkwafina as Ling, an expert pickpocket. Awkwafina has proven herself to be a capable actress, from her comic relief character in Crazy Rich Asians to her dramatic turn in this year’s The Farewell, and here, she displays an admirable level of comedic mimicry. Her best moment is when she emulates Danny DeVito, and it feels like this pairing was meant to be.
The film also introduces new elements to the gameplay that sound interesting, but the filmmakers either do not properly explain them, or just drop them halfway through. For example, when everyone enters the game this time, they are not allowed to select their avatars, but no real reason is given why that is, even though the subject is continually brought up. Another element is that if two people come in contact with a magical body of water, they can swap bodies. This is a nice treat for the actors, as it gives them more personalities to play with, and it can be fun to watch, but at times, this feels more like a distraction from what little plot this film has. Thankfully, the film’s jokes are pleasantly humorous, including one gut-busting gag involving a horse.
If audiences enjoyed Welcome to the Jungle, they will most likely enjoy The Next Level. It has everything one would expect a Jumanji sequel to have, including humorous jokes, engaging scenes of adventure, and moments of puzzle solving. All this film lacks is the same surprise factor that helped make the first film a hit. It is a satisfying and fun sequel, but nothing more than that. Like a video game, once you know how it ends, there is little reason to revisit it in the future, except for maybe a little fun.