2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was possibly one of the most surprisingly great films of all time. A sequel-cum-reboot to the 1995 Robin Williams film could of ended up feeling like a cynical cash grab, but with four great central performances and a wonderful script, it ended up being a fun winter-time treat. The film was also a huge success with audiences, grossing nearly 1 billion worldwide, so obviously, a sequel would be required.
The original centrally starred Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan as four avatars in the video game of Jumanji (adapted from the board game of the original), and saw four teenagers take on these avatars after entering the game. The sequel takes place 3 years later, in which our central characters have all moved on and are now young adults in college. Feeling his life was better when he was in the game, Spencer (Alex Wolff) decides to re-enter the game, and soon enough, his friends, Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) and his girlfriend, Martha (Morgan Turner) decide to also re-enter the game once again to save Spencer. However, this is complicated when instead of Bethany, the game actually sucks in two new players, 70-somethings, Eddie (Danny DeVito), Spencer’s grandfather and Milo (Danny Glover), Eddie’s former friend.
One of the central charms of Welcome to the Jungle was the role reversal of seeing the four teenagers in an avatar that was largely against type – for example, we the wimpish Spencer in the tough and burly Johnson avatar; the macho and tall Fridge in the small and slightly pointless Hart avatar; the shy and reversed Martha in the confident and scantily-clad Gillan avatar and the shallow and look-obsessed Bethany in, as she puts it, the “overweight and middle-aged” Black avatar.
The Next Level continues on this role reversal centrally, but tries to shake up the formula. The absolute highlight is seeing the elderly Milo inside the Hart avatar. Seeing Hart play against his normal acting style of talking in quite a high-pitched, shrieking and fast-paced manner and instead, talking in a slow-paced, and articulate manner is by far, the funniest part of the movie. Hart has appear in a lot of mediocre movies in the past, but from this and also his solid dramatic starring role in The Upside earlier this year, it seems like he is improving as a screen performer. For anyone normally annoyed with his over-the-top shrieking, will be largely impressed by him in this movie. Hart in this movie is not only, the funniest part of the movie, but one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a movie all year.
The other 3 avatars are not as entertaining as Hart, but still have some fun moments. This time, Johnson ends up getting DeVito in the game, and seeing him take on DeVito’s mannerisms is quite entertaining and funny. Also, the comedy stemming from seeing Johnson and Hart play older men (who are suddenly freed from bad hearing and bad hips) could of been written with a little more wit, but still has some fun moments.
Also in this movie, we see Fridge again end up in the complete opposite avatar, this time in the Black avatar. The humour stemming from it is pretty much the same joke repeated from the first movie (this time with the added joke that he’s “now white!”), but it still fairly works. The only cast member really given the short straw this time is Gillan, who was an absolute hilarious highlight in the first movie, and doesn’t really get much to do this time around. This time she ends up being Martha’s avatar for the second time, which is a bit tiresome, but as this happens, she ends up being a good conduit into this world for the second time.
Bonus characters this time around include a new avatar called Ming Fleetfoot, played by rising star, Awkwafina. The former rapper turned actress made a solid debut in last year’s Ocean’s Eight, and earlier this year, gave a terrific, possibly Oscar nominated serious turn in the superb The Farewell, and she is also very funny here as we see her portray various characters.
The only real problem with this sequel is the script isn’t quite as witty as the original. One of the highlights of the original was it’s entertaining satire of video games (for example, seeing Gillan complain about what exactly the point is of her wearing a scantily-clad Lara Croft outfit), but it feels like that is lacking from this one. Also, the script is not as tight or well developed as the original. The original also had a running joke of giving the characters three lives in a video game-like way, and often killed off the characters in a way that felt effortless and creative, and it feels like this one lacks that part of the script. The script just needed just a better put-together narrative.
The end result is slightly uneven, and also lacks the pleasant surprise that Welcome to the Jungle had. Despite this, it is still an entertaining follow-up that will keep parents and kids entertained this winter break. Despite this, it will probably lose it’s charm if they keep making these (which I’m sure they inevitably will).