Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Premise: Three years after the events of the 2017 film, Spencer (Alex Wolff) returns to the magical game. His friends come after him including Spencer’s grandfather (Danny DeVito) and his old friend (Danny Glover).
What Works: Jumanji: The Next Level is an effective compromise between the commercial imperative to repeat the first movie and the creative need to make something new. The video game setting, like the movie itself, is fundamentally the same with the players required to pass through a series of adventures and retrieve a McGuffin from a warlord-type (Rory McCann). But the action has moved from a jungle to a desert and later to mountainous terrain and the set pieces are distinctly different from those in the first movie. The action of The Next Level comes steadily and the picture moves along briskly. It’s also very funny and the highlight of the Jumanji sequel is the way the video game avatars imitate their real life players. For most of this movie Dwayne Johnson is the grandfather played by Danny DeVito and Kevin Hart is his friend played by Danny Glover. Johnson and Hart play up the mannerisms of their characters and they are a lot of fun to watch. Also impressive is Jack Black who is the avatar for the young African American athlete portrayed by Ser’Darius Blain. This could have gone really badly and the fact that it doesn’t is a testament to Black’s skills as a performer. The filmmakers run with the body swapping gimmick and it allows the movie to switch up the characters as the players share the strengths and weaknesses of their avatars and the actors do a fine job adjusting their performances to account for the real-life characters they are imbued with.
What Doesn’t: The character development and relationships aren’t as strong in The Next Level as they were in Welcome to the Jungle. The first Jumanji was about four teenagers overcoming their assumptions about each other to forge friendships and work as a team. The sequel never does anything that interesting. The dramatic moments are mostly reserved for the two older characters but this material frequently feels tacked on. Their conflict is only sketched out and it’s resolved with neither of the older characters having to do anything. No one else in The Next Level goes through a meaningful character arc; the young people spend most of this movie chaperoning the elder characters through the video game. The story kicks off with Spencer going into Jumanji to rediscover what it felt like to be a winner but his problems are never really resolved.
Bottom Line: Jumanji: The Next Level is a successful sequel. The movie provides much of what viewers enjoyed the first time around while elaborating enough to keep the material fresh. The body swapping gimmick compensates for a lack of depth and the film is sufficiently entertaining.
Episode: #781 (December 22, 2019)