The original “Jumanji” movie remains to this day a shining piece of 90s nostalgia, but in 2017 we got a surprisingly fun sequel “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” that took the idea of a game coming to life and adapted it to a more modern form of entertainment, video games. It was a huge hit earning over $962 million globally, so naturally Sony green lit a sequel and now two years later we have “Jumanji: The Next Level”. The film picks up a year after the previous installment finding Spencer (Alex Wolff) in a depressed state longing to rekindle the confidence he obtained from playing “Jumanji”. After attempting to fix the game’s system he re-enters the game leading his friends Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Martha (Morgan Rutner) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) to follow him while Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and Eddie’s former business partner Milo (Donnald Glover) are inadvertently sucked into the game as well. Together they must all once again beat the game of “Jumanji” as a new threat has plunged the titular jungle into darkness. Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Nick Jonas and Jack Black return as the avatars from the previous film while Awkwafina plays a new avatar. So, is the next level as entertaining as the first? Let’s find out. This is my review of “Jumanji: The Next Level”.
“Jumanji: The Next Level” is an interesting example of if it’s not broken don’t fix it, or at least only improve on it without compromising its charm. “The Next Level” doesn’t quite live up to its name by pushing boundaries, but it does build on the mythos and concepts already seen in the previous film. Once again, we have a film that sees the characters having to adapt to challenges presented to them by the game with each avatar having their own strengths and weaknesses while the story pokes fun as gaming tropes around every turn. It’s the same approach as the last film but this time the game is a sequel meaning that like many video game follow-ups the group’s second trip into the “Jumanji” game sees them using both new skills and their familiarity to progress and win a slightly more challenging adventure.
One of “Welcome to the Jungle’s” best aspects was its ability to lampoon video game clichés while also presenting a fun adventure and story. “The Next Level” does pretty much exactly the same thing but, like most video game sequels, it adds a little bit to make the experience slightly more difficult and challenging for the players. This time the players don’t pick their avatars, they’re thrown into random ones, which forces them to adapt but also teaches them the importance that different skills play in getting the job done thus inspiring teamwork. Each of the avatars have new weaknesses and strengths as well playing off how game developers often work to make sequels more challenging while keeping the same tone, aesthetic and charm of the original. That’s pretty much all “The Next Level” attempts to do, replicate and slightly build on what we loved about the previous movie and while this usually ends up being a cop out, with this movie it actually works quite well thanks to its ability to relate that laziness to how a video game sequel is done. In a sense that makes one of this movie’s biggest flaws also one of its biggest strengths as it’s hidden as commentary on video game follow-ups rather than being seen as the result of uninspired writing for the movie itself.
It helps that the cast is still very much on board, although I’ll admit some of the characters aren’t really utilized very well. While in the first movie all four of the kids had opportunities to learn and grown as people in the game, here it’s more about Spencer and his grandfather Eddie who learn how to appreciate themselves and each other a little bit more while the other characters don’t evolve quite as much. Almost everyone other than Spencer and Eddie are exactly the same person they were at the start of the movie by the time things wrap up. With that said it’s still very fun seeing these characters again and how close they’ve remained after their first adventure. Once again though it’s the avatars and their actors that are the most fun to watch. Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart and Jack Black are all back in action pretending to be their in-film real-life counterparts as they did in the previous movie although this time Johnson and Hart have to imitate Danny DeVito and Donald Glover respectively. The convincing performances from the first film are continued here as the movie doubles down on this idea by having the actors portray different players, like Jack Black having to take on Fridge’s personality for example. Even while playing different players each actor is still fun and convincing and once again you can see their respective characters within their performances. It’s actually pretty funny how convincing a DeVito Dwayne Johnson can pretend to be. Nick Jonas is also back playing the same character as before while Awkwafina plays a new playable character in the game named Ming Fleetfoot and has to portray several different players over the course of the film. As usual she’s a fun breath of fresh air to add to the cast.
This movie gives you exactly what you want if you’re a fan of the previous film and tries in minimal, but effective ways to build on its premise without truly upping the ante. It’s one of those movies that feels comfortable playing it safe and staying in its lane but you kind of appreciate that it didn’t go out of its way to set itself apart from the previous movie. “Welcome to the Jungle” and “The Next Level” are actually a very good pair that, when watched together, make a pretty fun conjoined narrative. While it would be nice, even necessary, to see the inevitable fourth movie (third if you count this as a self-contained series apart from the 1995 original) try something truly new and inspired “The Next Level” pulls off a rare feat by making only minimal changes and additions while keeping the core idea intact and yet still feeling fun, fresh, and like its own product. It somehow copies and compliments the previous film perfectly without feeling like a carbon copy which is a compliment to how effective and entertaining this idea of a real life video game is in the first place.
“Jumanji: The Next Level” is a perfectly harmless sequel that embraces most if not all of the great things about the previous film and adds a few new touches to give it its own flair. In that sense is the perfect cinematic representation of your average, garden variety video game sequel which is perfectly fitting and I woudlnt be surprised if it was planned that way. The performances are still fun, especially from those paying the avatars, the new additions to the game play within “Jumanji” add some neat layers and challenges to how the players have to play the game and the story is just as engaging as the previous movie and maybe even a bit more interesting and fun in some ways. It would be tough for me to really say which of these two films I prefer, but I will say that “The Next Level” at least lives up to the previous movie’s reputation and reminds us why we enjoyed “Welcome to the Jungle” so much while giving us some great new content to make coming back a second time worth the adventure. I do hope that that if this series is going to continue that the next installment really does make an attempt to push this franchise to the true next level of its potential. For now though, what we got in this follow-up is perfectly fine by me.