Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)
Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)

Genre: Adventure and Action Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs. 3 min.

Release Date: December 13th, 2019 MPAA Rating: PG-13

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

 


 

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artha (Morgan Turner), Bethany (Madison Iseman), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), and Spencer (Alex Wolff) have gone off to college and aren’t as close as they used to be. This is particularly true of Martha and Spencer, whose previous misadventures in the Jumanji video game inspired a real-life romance. When Spencer Gilpin returns home over the holiday season to New Hampshire from his New York University freshman year, he’s distraught at having lost the confidence and heroism of the avatar he embodied a year ago. It doesn’t help that he’s forced to room for the next two weeks with his grandfather, Eddie (Danny DeVito), who incessantly complains about getting old. And so, that evening, Spencer sneaks down into the basement to unearth the secreted Jumanji cartridge, causing him to once again get sucked into the console. This time, however, not only do his three pals come to the rescue, but Eddie and his longtime business partner Milo Walker (Danny Glover) are inadvertently introduced to the deadly virtual reality ordeals.

It’s no longer just the teenagers learning life lessons anymore; now an elderly duo, sporting a “Grumpy Old Men” vibe (along with themes from “City Slickers”), takes over half of the show. The film didn’t really need more characters, though the novelty of clashing additional personalities – especially those of a completely different generation – against one another has its moments. “I can’t say this enough. We’re in a video game.” The specific scenario to place the personas back into the jungle isn’t sensible either, but once audiences are reacquainted with the avatars, the familiar levity returns. After all, it’s Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan who are far more lovable than their youthful counterparts.

Many of the same hazards reappear, along with the standard three lives, strengths, and weaknesses. The rules haven’t changed, nor have the laughs; the missions might be slightly altered, but they’re merely designed to move characters through various location changes, while the humor is consistent but modest. Belly laughs are once again absent. Broadening the scope of the levels, the environments now drastically depart from forested regions, but the villain is negligible (Rory McCann, oddly playing a Viking-like antagonist, not too far removed from his “Game of Thrones” turn), the booby traps are uninspired, and the plot is a little to similar to “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” Plus, there’s so much CG in the action that it rarely feels genuinely suspenseful; even the majority of the stunts, fight choreography, and stealth routines are augmented by computer imagery.

But perhaps the biggest problem is that “Jumanji: The Next Level” feels as if it was written by people who don’t play video games. Whereas in the 1995 original, the board game was a way to bring the jungle into the real world, this update places the characters into the jungle through the eyes of avatars, which makes everything feel dependent on video game mechanics that are never properly exploited. Even when something middlingly clever arises, such as costume changes, the concept doesn’t stay true to its origination; instead, it has a practical application, which is plainly to have the cast dress more warmly when they film in a wintery setting. The missed opportunities – from special abilities to avatar-swapping to non-player characters – are tremendous.

The sense of adventure is steady, however, though comic moments involving lost lives or a magical power-up fruit just don’t make much sense in the context of a video game. It’s truly a shame that a creative merging of real-life woes (including teamwork, facing insecurities, and making amends) with video game perils (such as booby traps and boss fights) didn’t come to fruition. And though the repetitive gags that remind viewers of some of the best bits from the 2017 precursor are still amusing, by the time they’re repeated in a third film (which seems inevitable), they’ll be unbearably stale.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10