JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a massive surprise for both the moviegoing public and Columbia Pictures. As it should, a sequel to Jumanji was met with skepticism when it was announced, and it reeked of desperation from Sony to repurpose any IP they own to make a quick buck. Well, it was actually pretty solid. Not spectacular, by any means, but it’s very entertaining and funny, mostly thanks to the terrific cast. It’s basically as good as the original film, but was far more successful, grossing nearly $1 billion and becoming Columbia’s number one film at the time. As it would be for anybody, another $1 billion is impossible to resist, so Columbia was quick to greenlight a sequel. 
 
Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blaine), Morgan (Martha Kaply), and Bethany (Madison Iseman) have all graduated from high school, but have remained close friends, despite their separate lives. Spencer’s life isn’t going too hot, and feeling inadequate and depressed in the real world, he travels back into the Jumanji video game to once again become the big and strong Dr. Smolder Bravestone (The Rock). Determined to get their friend back, Fridge, Morgan, and Bethany go back into the game. However, they have some unexpected guests, with Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his estranged friend Milo (Danny Glover) being sucked into the game as well, tasking them all to tackle Jumanji: The Next Level
 
One large reason why Welcome to the Jungle was such a smash hit was because it felt fresh. Updating the Jumanji premise from a board game to a video game was a brilliant avenue to expand on the idea, while also being respectful to the original source material. Well, that freshness is completely gone, as what we have here is essentially the same movie. The characters are sucked into the game, inhabit avatars, run through the jungle, and learn some lessons along the way. There’s a lot of needless exposition with the characters explaining all of the video game rules to our new characters, who don’t understand it all due to them being old men. They try to make jokes out of it, but it mostly just feels like them copying and pasting some dialogue, just in case the audience is too stupid to remember, or understand what’s going on. The action scenes are more of the same, with stampedes and vehicle chases, but there are some amusing moments, such as The Rock beating up 50 bad guys by punching them through walls. They even recycle the dance fight sequence with the exact same song, Baby, I Love Your Way. Dance fighting one of Gillan’s character’s abilities, but if you’re going to reprise the moment, maybe don’t completely recycle it.
 
At least the cast is just as fun as last time, and all of the new characters are just as entertaining. Danny DeVito and Danny Glover were excellent additions and added some much-needed creativity. It also allows the actors to have more fun, as The Rock and Kevin Hart portray DeVito and Glover, respectively. I’m not the biggest fan of Kevin Hart, but I was quite impressed with his performance here, flawlessly channeling Danny Glover. If Kevin Hart wasn’t as short as he was, you could throw some makeup on him and he’d make for a very convincing young Glover just from his line deliveries alone. The Rock as Danny DeVito is nowhere near as fun, as he’s pretty one note, but when DeVito inhabits the avatar played by Awkwafina is where it really takes off. This is the first thing I’ve seen Awkwafina in and she’s hysterical with how she mimics Danny DeVito’s accent and body language. Having Fridge inhabit Jack Black’s avatar also provided some great laughs, embodying a cocky college athlete just as well as he did a teenage girl. Basically, if you liked the characters last time, you should have a good time here, too.
 
To nobody’s surprise, there’s some clear sequel bait at the end, but at least the bait seems to taste different. Hopefully, when the inevitable fourth film comes around, we’ll get something a bit more interesting. That doesn’t mean Jumanji: The Next Level is a bad time, as it’s still very funny and brisk, but if Columbia wants us to come play again, they’re going to have to shake things up. This may be a typical comedy sequel with diminished returns, but just like its predecessors, it’s a perfectly fine, simple blockbuster film that does one thing and one thing well: entertain. 
 
6/10 

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