10th Dec2019

‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Awkwafina, Danny Glover, and Danny DeVito | Written by Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg | Directed by Jake Kasdan

jumanji-next-level-poster

Back in 2017 audiences, I’m sure, didn’t expect much of a Jumanji sequel-come-reboot but that film turned out to be something of a mega-hit, hitting all the right notes while not retreading the same ground as the original 1995 film. Skip forward to 2019 and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle gets its own sequel and one that could have been a complete retread of events of the prior film but thankfully throws in enough curve balls to the story to make this both familiar, in terms of plotting, characterisation, etc. yet different enough to be another beguilingly  brilliant entry in the franchise.  One that not only focuses on laughs but also on emotion.. The real surprise about Jumanji: The Next Level is not how they managed to essentially retread the same story and not make it feel stale, but just how much the tugs on the heart-strings, echoing the emotional story arc of the 1995 Robin Williams film…

Set shortly after the previous film, Jumanji: The Next Level sees Spencer, Martha, Bethany and Fridge now at college; though Spencer seems to be having a rough, lonely, time of it. Returning home for the holidays, Spencer seeks solace in the fantastical world of Jumanji, rebooting the now-broken video game and getting sucked back into the strange world. Of course it’s not a Jumanji film without Martha, Fridge, and Bethany – who work together to re-enter the game to bring Spencer home. But everything about Jumanji is about to change, as they soon discover more obstacles and more danger to overcome… And not everything is the same this time!

Of course this is a Jumanji film so audiences will no what to expect from this sequel. However where Jumanji: The Next Level really differs in its take on the now oft-told tale is in the performances. You see this time round it’s not the same kids going into the bodies of the same avatars. Oh no. Instead we get Dwayne Johnson doing an impression – a spot on impression may I add – of Danny DeVito’s performance as the lead characters grandfather Eddie (a cantankerous old man who’s feels slighted by society AND his dodgy hip!); and Kevin Hart doing his “old man” skit as he tries to capture Danny Glover’s performance as Eddie’s ageing “former” best friend Milo, who talks in a VERY long winded fashion! Watching these two both play off each other as they did last time round, and also embody all-new elderly tropes, makes up for a LOT of the films laughs – after all the last movie was carried on the cast’s charisma and that hasn’t changed here.

But the switch ups don’t stop there – this time round Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) inhabits the body of Jack Black’s avatar character – who is the antithesis of Fridge’s sports playing, healthy lifestyle living self. And it’s here Black shines – we had his effeminate performance last time round but here we get to see him in a whole new light. The same goes for our “hero” Spencer who, at first, embodies Awkwafina’s avatar character – the thief Ming Lightfoot. Of course come the end of the film everyone is, thanks to some Jumanji body-swapping mumbo-jumbo, back in the same avatars they were in Welcome to the Jungle… although kudos to the scriptwriters for still not re-treading the same story when this does happen; instead the film becomes something of a highlight reel of the previous films standout moments whilst moving this films story forward at the same time.

Oh, and it’s at that point in this body-swapping menagerie that we get Awkwafina doing an impression of DeVito’s crotchety Eddie – in what is a truly scene-stealing performance!

As I mentioned previously, Jumanji: The Next Level touches on a lot more emotion than the previous film. Yes, Welcome to the Jungle had a love story between it’s two leads, Martha and Spencer, but here we get a wonderful tale about not only love but also family, growing old, and even facing your fears – mainly explored through Spencer, his Grandfather Eddie (DeVito) and his former best friend Milo (Danny Glover). It’s the latter two and their characters that really provide the emotional core – there’s bound to be some tears from certain members of the audience come the films conclusion… No spoilers from me though!

But it’s not a laughs and emotion. Like its predecessor, Jumanji: The Next Level is packed with action set-pieces – this time set in new locales, and with new, more vicious, enemies and beasts. The overall scope of the action seems bigger too, everything has been dialed up to the next level (pun intended). We get deserts, snowy mountains (including a huge villains hideout on a mountaintop) and a terrifying Indiana Jones-style sequence with rope bridges and killer monkeys. It’s all a step-up from what we’ve seen before. Where the franchise goes from here I don’t know – though the mid-credits coda set things up for a third film in this series in a VERY different way from what we’ve seen before.

**** 4/5

The epitome of a old-school cinematic blockbuster, Jumanji: The Next Level is exciting, touching and more importantly… fun. The film is in cinemas this week.

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