Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)
Director: Jake Kasdan
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart
Synopsis: 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.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for adventure action, suggestive content and some language)
Runtime: 2 hr 3 min
Release Date: December 13, 2019
After their first wild ride in Jumanji, Spencer, Martha, Fridge, and Bethany are back in the jungle in the sequel to 2017's surprise box office hit Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle--a film that served as a direct sequel to the 1995 Robin Williams vehicle. As is the case with virtually all box office hits, a sequel to the 2017 film was all but inevitable; the question was if it could bring anything new or interesting to the table.
Let's be real here: the first film's success put on full display the power of A-List casting--there's probably not a single soul who went to the theater not knowing who Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, or Jack Black were. And the film would've undoubtedly grossed a lot less without those three in the lead roles. The biggest unknown of the four was Karen Gillan--who's role as the blue skinned Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy made her virtually unrecognizable in Jumanji. But the casting, and the palpable chemistry among them, made for an enjoyable film--even though it tried too hard for laughs some of the time (see my original review).
I'll be honest--I didn't have very high expectations for The Next Level--but this film pleasantly surprised me. No, it's not a great sequel that'll join the ranks of best sequels ever made, but it's a good sequel, one that's filled with a surprising amount of character depth that, even more surprisingly, comes from new characters. This film could've been content just handing us the same characters from the first (that grossed Sony so much money) and riding that same high wave again, but an effort is actually made here to do something new, and that deserves recognition and praise. We get two new characters that are sucked into the game, Eddie (Spencer's grandfather--Danny DeVito) and Milo (Spencer's grandfather's former friend--Danny Glover) who have a rift between them, and we find out about halfway through the film what it actually is. But in a similar manner as in the first film, the experience in the game helps to bond the pair back together, and without spoiling anything, there's some actual real world stakes here. It's such a minute plot point but one that carries a lot of emotional weight at the end of the film, which is refreshing to see in a film that's advertised as a round-the-clock comedy. Perhaps that's the real reason behind the game being called "the next level."
As far as the comedy goes, not all the jokes land like they're supposed to, but the film also doesn't try as hard as the first to make so much of the dialogue comedic. We still get plenty of funny moments (don't worry), but we also get some more serious, life applicable material. And while a lot of the comedy once again comes from those three leads (Johnson, Hart, and Black) the new additions, particularly DeVito make for some thoroughly enjoyable scenes that make this film seem livelier than the first.
The action is once again exaggerated and CGI-driven, but I have less problems with it since the film is set in a video game world. At first you may roll your eyes when you see a punch from Dwayne Johnson send someone (or something) several feet in the opposite direction, but you learn to go with it the more it happens. It's purely intentional and meant for laughs, not for real life accuracy, and for that it works. There may come times such as when you see an over extended sequence of the gang chased by a flock of super wild, aggressive ostriches that you wonder why am I watching this, but again, it's mainly played for laughs--not real life. The positive aspect of the action is that, like the first film, it's character driven at many points--through all the craziness and insanity of what's happening on screen, there's character development happening underneath at many points. This is the best kind of action (and what all action sequences should technically do), and its use keeps the sequences entertaining from both the pure spectacle and character standpoints.
Though it doesn't reach elite status on sequels by any means, Jumanji: The Next Level indeed feels like a level up--a surprisingly good second installment to the new Jumanji--can we say it--franchise. It still provides ample comedy but instills more depth from some new characters, while delivering some entertaining, character driven action sequences that should please fans of the first film. Hopefully the inevitable third film follows this same formula of success.
Written by Anthony Watkins, January 18, 2020