Jumanji: The Next Level – Film Review
by G. O’Byrne
Director: Jake Kasdan
Writers: Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart
Responsible adults will know that Jumanji: The Next Level is the sequel to the 2017 Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, itself a reboot of the 1995 movie Jumanji, which is based on a 1981 fantasy children’s picture book of the same name, written and illustrated by the American author Chris Van Allsburg (for aficionados of trivia, he also wrote “The Polar Express” in 1985, also successfully adapted to the big screen).
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a surprise smash hit for Sony in 2017, it just kept going from strength to strength with each passing week, eventually ending its race at over $US 962 million at the global box office, more than 10 times its budget. Whereas the original 1995 Jumanji film centred on a board game, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle updated the story to a video game.
So what’s this film about? Well, years after being pulled into the Jumanji video game world, Spencer (Alex Wolff) rediscovers the broken game in storage. While trying to fix it, he’s pulled back into the dangerous virtual world. When Bethany (Madison Iseman), Martha (Morgan Turner), and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) find out where he’s gone, they set out to rescue him. But once in the game, they realize that while the avatar bodies — Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and Professor Shelly Overton (Jack Black) – are the same, Spencer’s grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his friend Milo (Danny Glover) have taken over two of them. With the grandpas in tow, they will have to brave parts unknown and unexplored, from arid deserts to snowy mountains, in order to find and rescue Spencer and finish a quest which will allow them to get back to the real world.
Some of the best parts of the film are watching these characters hilariously bounce off each other verbally. The additions of elderly characters bring about a gleeful comedic addendum, where Milo and Eddie keep wondering if they’re dead, not fully comprehending being stuck in a videogame or the concept of having three lives.
Much like its predecessor, the film is about overcoming insecurities and dealing with the burdensome baggage that’s dragging at your ankles. There are some fantastic set-pieces that are highly imaginative, particularly the one involving a horde of evil mandrils, and another involving a flock of murderous ostriches.
Unlike say in Spielberg’s Ready Player One, where the in-game epic war also affects the real-world battle against a corporate douchebag as the two universes come to a collision, here whatever happens in-game in Jumanji doesn’t lead to significant consequences in the real world other than their need to stay alive! This nullifies some of the dramatic tension in the action set pieces. Perhaps what we need is a little more emphasis and urgency on why it’s important for the in-game characters to “save Jumanji.” When the characters have the exact same objective in The Next Level as they did in Welcome to the Jungle, and when the adventure itself is more or less a carbon copy, some of its lustre is lost.
Jumanji: The Next Level does what few sequels can do… make a movie that’s just as good, if not better than the last. They kept what was fun and built on it, with a few hilarious changes. It has some unexpected heart, too. Jumanji: The Next Level is exactly the kind of family-friendly fun most people clamour for at this time of year.