Jumanji: The Next Level Movie Review - Almost takes it to the next level
While not actually taking the franchise to the next level, the film does a decent job of sticking to what the franchise has always been about — how a game can teach important life skills
Sequels rarely retain the essence of the original film, so as I was walking out of the theatre after watching Jumanji: The Next Level, I was glad that it managed to do that well. Instead of just expanding the world like most fantasy films, the latest instalment of the 24-year-old franchise brings a sense of transition from its 2017 predecessor by adding new characters who further the story to give us an intriguing film.
Director: Jake Kasdan
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Danny DeVito, Jack Black, Danny Glover, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart
A year after the events of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), Martha (Morgan Turner), and Bethany (Madison Iseman), who have gone their separate ways, plan on having a get-together. But Spencer, suffering from an inferiority complex, prefers the world of Jumanji where his character, Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), is everything he can't be in real life. Conveniently, the bowling ball that was dropped on the console at the end of the first game didn't really make it go kaput and Spencer, as expected, bids sayonara to the real world. While you might expect the rest of the gang to go back into the game to rescue Spencer, fate has it that instead of Bethany, the game sucks in Fridge and Martha along with Spencer's cranky grandpa, Eddie (Danny DeVito), who is recovering from hip surgery, and his estranged friend Milo (Danny Glover), who had come to meet Eddie after years.
What this translates to in the Jumanji world is where the fun begins. Except for Martha, who is once again in the body of Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), everything else is haywire. Fridge, who was Franklin "Mouse" Finbar (Kevin Hart) in the previous film, is now stuck as Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon (Jack Black). Meanwhile, grandpa Eddie and Milo are now in the avatars of Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) and Finbar.
Remember how Bethany turned into Oberon and Jack Black enacted an egocentric teenage girl in Welcome to the Jungle? The mantle now is in the hands of Hart who steals the show by channelling Danny Glover's impeccably soft-spoken and irritatingly slow-talking character, Milo. His antics are so hilarious that they overshadow Johnson's iteration of DeVito. Johnson also does a commendable job of switching back and forth from Eddie's clueless mouth gaping to Bravestone's smouldering, eyebrow-raising looks.
To take things to the next level, literally, the game, which was in the deepest of forests in the first part, has moved to newer terrains. The sequel has our heroes battling the elements in a desert, tundra, and on ice-capped mountains. What makes things even more interesting is how the characters in the game have new strengths and weaknesses. Not only does this make some interesting premises work, it also makes way for some hilarious sequences. For example, Finbar, the diminutive zoologist who is allergic to cakes, is now also a linguist, and can even communicate with animals. The film also sees Jefferson "Seaplane" McDonough (Nick Jonas) returning to duty and rapper Awkwafina making her debut in the franchise as the pickpocketing and lock-picking Ming Fleetfoot.
Compared to the 2017 film, The Next Level has fewer action sequences. But what it lacks in quantity, the film makes for with quality. Be it the ostrich chasing sequence or going through the moving rope bridges while being chased by a horde of mandrills, the action scenes are hilarious and entertaining. The visuals are stunning and a comparison of this film with the 1995 Robin Williams-starrer can be a case study on the evolution of CGI in Hollywood. However, this doesn't explain why the film is in 3D considering there's nothing immersive here.
Fans of pop-culture are sure to enjoy The Next Level for its easter eggs. The rope bridge sequence is a direct reference to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and that's not surprising given Dr Bravestone's character is a take on Jones himself — minus the utility belt, which is based on Han Solo's. The ostrich chasing scene, which reminds us of Mad Max, thanks to the backdrop, is a callback to the Jumanji animated series where the bird makes an appearance. Ming's character seems to be borrowed from games such as Final Fantasy and Mass Effect. The icing on the cake is the return of Nora Sheperd from the 1995 film.
What didn't work for me, however, is the film's conflict. We are introduced to a new villain in the form of the arrogant warlord Jurgen the Brutal, played by Rory McCann, best known for portraying Sandor "The Hound" Clegane in Game of Thrones. Probably because of his casting, the sequences having him — be it the icy mountains or the candlelit taverns filled with armoured soldiers — strongly remind us of the hit HBO series. Similar to the Jaguar's Eye jewel in the previous film, we have something called the Falcon's Heart here and the plot surrounding it is the weakest link. Thankfully, the film does not revolve around it despite it being the MacGuffin.
On the whole, while not actually taking the franchise to the next level as the title might denote, the film does a decent job of sticking to what the franchise has always been about — how a game can teach important life skills needed to survive in today's world. The strained relationship between Eddie and Milo, and how the game amends it, gives much-needed heart for a film like this, making it easy to overlook the issues. Now that this is out, how about a sequel to Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005) which is a spin-off of sorts to Jumanji? After all, Hollywood loves aliens.