Let me just go ahead and break it to all the readers out there… I don't think I've ever seen the original Jumanji. Maybe I did when I was very young, maybe I've just seen clips, but one thing is for certain; I don't remember anything besides Robin Williams in a beard. However, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle I did see in theaters, and while I didn't absolutely love it the first go'round, once at home it easily became a favorite of the year. Two years later, Jumanji is back and this time it's bigger, bolder, but ultimately more of the same.
Jake Kasdan (Orange County) returns to direct this sequel and he manages to bring the same distinct personality from the first. Kasdan understands how to get the right amount of chemistry out of his performers; people say lightning doesn't strike twice, but well, it's struck down at least three times in Kasdan's career (coincidentally all of which feature Jack Black). Jumanji: The Next Level is another visceral journey through the mind of Jake Kasdan and assisted by the idea of the 1995 original. When given great actors and free reign to make a film he is inherently passionate about, it clearly shows in the final product. Kasdan seems to love the property, his actors, characters, and the old fashioned style of video game that the film simulates so well in this sequel.
What should have been a complete rehash of the first plot (Welcome to the Jungle), winds up being a partial regurgitation of the last film but with bigger set ups, more diverse character choices, and an altogether better video game plot. To be perfectly honest, neither of these films feel like modern video games, but the simplistic nature of the games from the NES days, which is something that is hinted at with glimpses at the gaming cartridge outside of the world of Jumanji. With Jake Kasdan (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider-Man), and Scott Rosenberg (Con Air) having writing credits, it's lamentable that if you break down the film plot here it's an uncomplicated narrative, closely matching the phrase "barebones,” and resembling the point a to b to c plotline that burdened the original Welcome to the Jungle.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
In The Next Level we are re-introduced to our real world heroines from the first film: Bethany (Madison Iseman), Martha (Morgan Turner), Spencer (Alex Wolff), and Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), along with a few new faces such as Grandpa Eddie (Danny Devito) and his ex-friend Milo (Danny Glover). Dwayne Johnson is back, and this time he has arrived with BDE (Big Devito Energy). Johnson is somehow the perfect conduit for the personality of Devito. While characters do happen to switch around occasionally, things just don't get better than a "The Rock" Devito. Something that we didn't get in the previous film was Karen Gillan playing a character that wasn't just a younger version of herself, so now we've seen what it would be like to have her play another character, and unfortunately it doesn't really work. Kevin Hart portrays the video game version of Milo as played by Danny Glover and he is excellent in the role - a performance that outmatches his usual role, and even a career best. Jack Black is always a personal MVP of mine, however to be honest, his role here isn't as great as the first go'round; his character still has moments but ultimately his portrayal of the real world being, Fridge, just isn't incredibly funny. Rory McCann, best known as 'The Hound' on Game of Thrones, is severely underutilized here as The Next Level's villain. He is everything a videogame villain should be and he plays menacing with ease, it's just his lack of characterization beyond him being a bland villain that makes his appearance all the more unsatisfying. All in all though, the returning side characters (Rhys Darby, Colin Hanks), and new faces (Awkwafina) help keep the world fresh while showing signs of the same flaws of the prior entry.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Composer Henry Jackman understands action, scoring films such as X-Men: First Class and Kingsman: The Secret Service, so he had no issues with his latest effort. The score within Jumanji: Next Level is epic, capturing the sense of adventure the group goes on to an absolute tee. The film simulates little aspects of an older generation video game like the regeneration cues and the intense buildup to a set piece, AKA the drum beat depicting the beginning of a new threat. The world of Jumanji takes hints of different films scores to create this mashup of genre, which in The Next Level (similarly to Welcome to the Jungle), helps craft a sense of nostalgia for the older film scores of yesterday.
From one of its opening shots, the movie struggled with it's reality. Once we're in the world of Jumanji for a chunk of time, we adapt to the world. While the landscape of the map they explore doesn't entirely make sense, at most times it looks incredibly well shot and rendered. It's just the moments that are too grand in scale that make you remember that this world is incredibly fake (talking to you, bridge scene).
While altering the character dynamics slightly by adding two new character personalities to the mix, the film is eerily still just more of the same. Yes, the set pieces are bigger. Yes, the actors are all great in their respective roles. However, more of the same isn't always the best thing, with some of the same issues as the first appearing: a lacking villain, barebones plot, and rushed conclusion that acts as though the characters are passing through set piece after set piece to get to the final boss. While game-like in nature, when transformed into a film format, the final product appears choppy. Jumanji: The Next Level is the Home Alone 2 of the Jumanji universe; more of the same, bigger scale, higher stakes, and ultimately conflicting final results.