In 2017, Sony delivered a surprisingly delightful adventure in the form of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The precious Jumanji title was revisited — not rebooted — with Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart at the forefront. Despite facing skepticism for unearthing the beloved 1990s title in the first place, the movie was satisfying and successful enough to spawn a sequel in the form of Jumanji: The Next Level. Like the video game concept itself, The Next Level ups the stakes and goes bigger, which, in this case, is enough to justify another outing in this extravagant, silly world.
All of the original cast members of Welcome to the Jungle return for The Next Level, meaning that Johnson and Hart are at the front of the film with Karen Gillan and Jack Black getting more than enough time to stand out, once again. The film also adds Danny Glover and Danny DeVito as real-world characters who merely bookend the movie but have presences felt throughout as their Milo and Eddie characters become those which embody Johnson and Hart's in-game avatars.
The concept is the same as the previous installment: real-world people find themselves trapped in the Jumanji game embodying avatars which are people drastically different from themselves. This time around, switching the character's roles up provides fresh laughs. Where Black's Bethany in the first film was the most memorable of all, Hart's talking in Glover's cadence is a constant scene-stealer. It often outshines Johnson's DeVito impression, a performance which could have easily stripped the film of credibility but is good enough to get a few laughs, especially with silly out-of-character outbursts from the muscular actor representing a shorter, older man.
Watching Gillan, Black, and the rest of the gang trot around doing things so bizarrely different from anything they're going to do in any other movie or in their actual lives is purely entertaining in itself. This means that the story is simply a supplement and you can probably put the rehearsals on screen and it would be just as entertaining.
Still, the story manages to become an emotional factor late in the game and it turns out to be one loaded with unexpected heart. Some members of the audience may find themselves feeling a surprising level of emotion before the movie wraps up as director Jake Kasdan returns from his first Jumanji entry two years ago to add an additional layer this time around. Where his first Jumanji saw a bunch of teenagers finding themselves in more mature bodies, The Next Level flips the perspective by bringing two old men into more youthful experiences, learning about themselves and their friendships along the way. Aside from Hart's performance, Kasdan's injection of purpose into The Next Level might be the most impressive feat, even if its conclusion lands a bit questionably.
Kasdan does tap into the CGI effects a little too heavily, often stripping the film of some of its ability to keep it about the central characters and replaces them with a flock of computerized ostriches or mandrills, but the cast's wonderful chemistry and wit get it through. However, this is intended to be a video game world, so some of the computerized elements could be forgiven, if not so jarringly juxtaposed with the real cast and props.
Jumanji: The Next Level is a movie the whole family will enjoy. It's an exciting, hilarious adventure and accomplishes everything it sets out to, never taking itself too seriously, and giving audiences an ab workout in how often they'll be laughing.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Jumanji: The Next Level is in theaters on December 13th.
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