Review: Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)

Jumanji: The Next Level

Rating

Director

Jake Kasdan

Screenplay

Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg

Length

2h 3m

Starring

Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Awkwafina, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Rhys Darby, Colin Hanks, Rory McCann

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language

Original Preview

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Soundtrack

Poster

Source Material

Review

The pressure is on for everyone involved in the sequel Jumanji: The Next Level hoping to both excite and entice fans of the previous film while delivering solid and improved laughs. The directors, the actors, and the writers have all done their best to come up with something worthy of the word “sequel.”

When Jumanji came out in 1995, there was little like it on the big screen and the concept was so entertaining that it drew audiences in droves and gave Robin Williams one of his biggest successes of the decade. When it was rebooted in 2017, there was a lot riding on the film and the end result was something truly hilarious. It was even better than the original film. While the sequel might not one-up its predecessor, its attempts at keeping things fresh are commendable.

Two new characters are introduced to audiences this time around, Spencer’s grandfather played by Danny DeVito and his grandfather’s former business partner played by Danny Glover. Inside the game, we get one new character played by Awkwafina. The complications of the plot are such that discussing it too deeply would give it away. Suffice it to say, the same overarching concept of the prior film is there, but the new adventure will take them across deserts, gorges, and snowy mountains. The original players are back inside the game. Dwayne Johnson tries to affect a new accent that doesn’t work; Jack Black nails everything he does; Kevin Hart is also on point; and the prior film’s M.V.P., Karen Gillan, is given quite a bit to do, but doesn’t really excel at any of it; Nick Jonas does a rather unexceptional job; and Awkwafina tries her best, but comes off a bit awkward at times, though is ultimately third best in this roster.

For a sequel, the moving parts are surprisingly well orchestrated. Jumanji: The Next Level picks up a year after the events of the prior film as the four high schoolers are separated by college, but who all return home for a reunion. Following organically from where the prior film finished, Spencer (Alex Wolff) and Martha (Morgan Turner) couldn’t find a way to consummate their friendship and now that Spencer is off at college, his life feels empty without her. The friends who seemed like they would be together forever all seem to have moved on without him, leaving Spencer’s ego a touch fragile, sending him back into the video game where he must work out his feelings or risk being trapped in the game forever.

This concept flows naturally from the prior film while setting up a new adventure that feels intensely unique. If only the writers hadn’t tried to shoehorn in the DeVito and Glover characters whose presence feels entirely unnecessary and ultimately just pads the running time. It’s a nice story, but it might have been better told separately.

The reboot caught everyone off guard with some tremendously funny comedy with a fascinating story at its heart. The story here is pretty solid, but the hilarity is largely inferior to its predecessor. There’s still promise for the expected third film in the series, but I suspect there may be a bit of diminishing returns with each successive film, at least if this one is indicative.

Review Written

May 18, 2020

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