Review: ‘Jumanji: The Next Level’, An Effective Sequel To The Smash Jungle Hit

Way back in 2017, it was considered an unnecessary cash grab to do a “legacy sequel” to the classic 1995 hit Jumanji, especially since Robin Williams’ charm was no longer around for us to enjoy.  The idea of Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart headlining a Jumanji movie just sounded insane.  However, everyone was proven wrong as Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle was funny, action-packed, fun, as it spun the video game movie genre on its head (and is probably the best video game movie made to date) and ended up clearing $962 million worldwide.  It’s almost a no brainer that a sequel would be greenlit.  But since we got everything we needed out of the first Jumanji sequel film, what new could they bring to the table, or would it suffer from Sequelitis?  With Jumanji: The Next Level, the series managed to once again reinvent itself and deliver a very fun movie while continuing to honor the groundwork laid previously.

A year has passed for the gang after they experienced the events of the first film.  They have graduated high school and are all now in college, but because of their experience being inside a video game, they all remain tight, they even have a WhatsApp group chat.  While everything seems to be going good for the group, things aren’t so good for Spencer (Alex Wolff) as he’s suffering a case of the Holiday Blue after breaking up with Martha (Morgan Turner) as he returns home for the holidays.  To make matters worse, he has to share his room with his crotchety grandfather Eddie (the always awesome Danny DeVito).  He basically realizes that his time in the game was better than in the real world, rebuilds the game (the group destroyed), and goes in to play once again.  That leaves Martha, Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), and Bethany (Madison Iseman) to come to his house when he’s a no-show for their planned group brunch.  After they all meet Grandpa Eddie and his uninvited friend Milo (Danny Glover), they hear the drums and realize Spencer’s in the game.  They decide they have to once again go in and rescue their friend.

However, things are a little different.  The game as glitched as a result of the team destroying the game before, and they aren’t using the same avatars they did last time, except Martha who luckily ends up as game character Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) again.  Everyone else, it’s all different.  Grandpa Eddie ends up getting sucked into the game and is in Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), who was Spencer’s previous avatar.  Grandpa Eddie’s friend Milo is also involuntary brought in the game and goes into “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), Fridge’s previous avatar.  Fridge ends up in Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), who was Bethany’s previous avatar.  They are now in the game trying to find Spencer, who is now a new character Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina) Are we confused yet?  Speaking of Bethany, where is she?

The body-switching makes the film very interesting as now the actors are acting in completely new roles. Dwayne Johnson is having a ball doing his best Danny DeVito impression as he lays it on thick. Kevin Hart is incredibly hilarious as he does his best Danny Glover “old black man” impression, complete with long-winded conversations that he takes at ill-opportune times. The MVP however, is Jack Black, who does his absolute best Kevin Hart impersonation. While it may feel like he’s going for “black voice,” he’s swinging for the fences and is completely hilarious. Half the time Johnson and Hart are playing old people who not only don’t understand the concept of a video game, but they have to repeatedly be told that they are in a video game and not dead or “in Florida.”

Even though their main objective is to try and find Spencer, this is Jumanji, and they have to win the game.  Nigel Billingsley (Rhys Darby) is back as the NPC guide and gives them a mission to save Jumanji from Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann- good to see a GOT alum getting some work after Westeros).  So off they go on their quest, which of course Spencer is bound to show up to help.  Also helping is Alex (Colin Hanks) who after hearing of their predicament goes back into the game as “Seaplane” McDonough Nick Jonas.  Once again, everyone has special abilities (although they are a little different this time with different strengths and weaknesses) and they have three lives or else will die in the real world as well.

The film does try to veer into drama territory as there’s a conflict between Grandpa Eddie and Milo that goes through its combative-to-happily friends cycle of conflict, it feels clunked in and the resolution at the ends of the film “sorta” works.  The same does for Spencer and Martha as they deal with their breakup.  However, the exploration that Spencer’s life in the real world sucking and him wanting to go back to the video game is an interesting parable for how many people live their lives on social media.  But let’s keep it real, the comedy and the spectacle, is what makes this movie work.  As stated before, the actors playing against their previous roles (except Karen Gillan) and how they have to do a different type of acting and improvisation than they did in the first film and it completely works.  There’s a moment that involves body-swapping and the characters and their avatars are changed once again, which allows the actors to once again flex their muscles, especially Awkwafina who is hilarious in the third act.  While a small bit of the magic from the first film (as it was a completely new concept) has faded a little, the decision for the film to remix itself makes it a funny and worthwhile experience.

3.5 out of 5