The “first” Jumanji (or would that technically be second?) was somewhat of a very welcome surprise. Taking the formula of the 90’s orginal and bringing it into the video game age, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle stunned everyone with it’s immensely entertaining secret weapon – the fact that it actually was an extremely funny body swapping comedy in which a teenage girl could find herself in the body of a portly geologist and a nerd could inhabit the man mountain of meticulous muscle that is Dwayne Johnson. Fusing that with a concept that expertly parodied the rules of an adventure video game, we were left with a full bloodied action comedy packed full of genuine laughs. However, with the surprise element something the sequel is unable to rely on, does The Next Level reach precisely that?
A couple of years has passed since Spencer, Martha, Bethany and Fridge took a life or death trip through an enchanted games console and for the most part, things are better than ever. Martha, Bethany and Fridge are thriving in their post-high school lives thanks mainly to the life lessons learned by fighting off killer hippos and slavering jaguar’s but Spencer is struggling. Barely able to scrape ends together while attending college in New York, his relationships with the other 3 have sputtered out and he’s feeling as small and scared as he’s ever done. Heading home for the holidays he finds out he has to share a bedroom with his grouchy grandpa who’s recovering from a hip operation and desides to rebuild the shattered Jumanji console in order to once again become the game’s muscular hero, Dr. Smolder Bravestone, in order to regain his confidence. Once his friends find out what he’s done they enter the game to try and rescue him but things aren’t like what they were before. Martha once again becomes the high kicking Ruby Roundhouse but Fridge is now in the out of shape and very caucasian form of geologist Proffesor Oberon. To make matters worse, Spencer’s grandpa and his estranged former business partner Milo have been also sucked into the game and take the forms of Bravestone and “Mouse” respectively.
With the rules changed, a brand new mission to complete and two unwilling elderly players who have no concept as to how you would even start playing a video game slowing them down, the group start playing through in order to save Spencer but can they hope to beat a game they barely escaped from with their lives a second time?
A good sequel should take what worked the first time round and amplifies it even further for the next adventure and taken in this respect, Jumanji: The Next Level is an unmistakable success. The rambunctious action and video game logic was great and all but what really connected in the first movie (or would that be second?) was the body swapping. Having Jack Black portraying a character inhabited by a teenage girl or Dwayne Johnson playing a nerd was tremendous fun and here the concept is taken even further with the new elderly players and a few new avatars (say hello to Awkwafina as nervy thief Ming Fleetfoot). Not only is everyone mostly in new bodies allowing for some humorous impersonations (Kevin Hart’s agonisingly slow Danny Glover impersonation is nothing short of an cinematic treasure and should be treated as such) but plot machinations mean that the avatars swap even further as the film goes along.
Of course the added body swapping and all the comedy that springs from it inevitably affect other aspects of the film. For example the action scenes here, while still fun, are fairly basic, with the gang essentially fleeing vast herds and gaggles of supremely pissed of jungle creatures over different terrains and the video game rules are reduced to the youngsters repeatedly yelling them at the bewildered old times as a running joke.
However the film retains the sizable amount of heart (as well as Hart), especially with the resolution of the storyline that concerns the pensioners that are participating and it’s nice to see a big budget, special effects movie that thinks to include the old guys for a change. If nothing else it’s worth it to see who out of Johnson and Awkwafina can do the most crotchety Danny De Vito impression and not even Star Wars can boast that this year.
The Next Level keeps the concept of the first (or is it second) movie very much alive and builds on it until the prospect of a third go round (or is it fourth?) is potentially quite the mouth watering idea.
Jumanji continues to level up nicely and should definitely earn an extra life…