Jumanji: The Next Level (MOVIE REVIEW)
Runtime: 123 Minutes
Director: Jake Kasdan
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Awkwafina, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover
2017 in film had a lot of things that undeniably shocked the world. Whether it may be The Last Jedi’s controversial reception, Guillermo del Toro making a Romantic Fantasy about the intimate relationship between a woman and a fish man, or Darren Aronofsky basically shocking the world with his arthouse film masquerading as a mainstream horror, the biggest shock that probably placed people that year was how stupidly successful Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was. The sequel to the 90s family hit of the same name about the infamous board game now turned into the video game most likely for relevancy reasons was a smash hit on release during the Christmas of 2017, even when competing against a behemoth like Star Wars. This was possibly down to the great camaraderie the cast shared, the fun action scenes, and just that pure feeling of escapism people likely wanted to see at that time. The film isn’t particularly amazing, mostly down to how generic the story was and how it wasn’t VERY funny, but the inept charm of the premise along with the fun action helped to make it a decent watch, even if there isn’t a major urge to watch it a second time. But in this case, given it made nearly a Billion Dollars worldwide, Sony jumped at the possibility of the film being given a sequel to hopefully see if lighting in a bottle can strike twice. But can this new instalment titled The Next Level capture the heart and thrills from before, or is this a shameless sequel made solely for financial gain from a greedy conglomerate?
The Next Level takes place a year after Welcome to the Jungle, where Spencer is feeling lonely and clueless about life being in University, whilst his other friends, after their adventure into Jumanji have carved their own little friendship circle. This strains his relationship with Martha and wanting to feel brave again as he once was as Smoulder Bravestone, using the scraps he collected behind their backs, he repairs the Jumanji video game and gets sucked into the game again. When his friends find out, they decide to conduct a rescue mission to retrieve Spencer, only this time they end up being sucked into the game alongside his cynical grandfather played by Danny DeVito alongside his friend played by Danny Glover. With the game having changed since their last visit and the team now having to basically teach 2 senior citizens how to survive in this new world, the team go on another daring Jumanji adventure with some new avatars and faces along the way.
It’s difficult to not deny that under the surface when looking at The Next level in terms of its plot that it’s highly derivative of the last film. Even if there are new locations and characters to experience here, one of the biggest issues with the film which might come as a result from the short timespan in between production of this sequel and its predecessor is that the story hits most of the same beats as before. The film still follows four teenagers getting sucked into a video game set in a giant jungle, the team are given a task to retrieve an item that will allow them to finish the game and return to their world, they all have 3 lives each to achieve their goal, and much of the narrative focuses on these characters adapting to their avatars and learning to work together to save themselves whilst learning to grow as better people along the way. It’s all been done before and because of this, some of the enjoyment that the last film had does feel lost since there is a hint of predictability to be found all over. Even then, the reason for why these characters are even returning to this game in the first place despite vowing to never use it again is all down to Spencer practically learning nothing from his time as Bravestone and reducing himself to the same anxious mess he was before as if he had not changed at all, which just makes the adventure feel somewhat redundant. However, if there is something that the Next Level should have some credit for, is that despite how recycled the script is, the filmmakers do seemingly try their absolute best to try a bunch of new things to make the film seem a bit more refreshing. For one thing, for the most part, almost all of the characters are in different bodies than before, which results in the dynamics feeling a bit more unique. You can definitely tell the cast, especially Dwayne Johnson, are having a lot of fun having to experiment with these new characters, now having to shift their personalities for different people. It also helps the film with its comedy since much of the humour comes from the sheer stupidity and irony that comes from the characters adapting to their avatars and there is nothing more hilarious at points than seeing Johnson trying so hard to imitate Danny DeVito’s truly cynical attitude. Awkwafina also plays a new avatar introduced into this film, and she is a welcome addition to the cast not only because of how funny she is, but because of how well she blends in with the others, which helps to make this whole picture not feel quite as redundant as it sometimes can be.
This also translates well to the action scenes. Welcome to the Jungle had some fun moments scattered throughout, but for the most part, it wasn’t the action that made it stand out. It was more so the cast and their dynamic. But The Next Level quite literally takes the action to a higher extreme with some of the sequences this time feeling much higher in scope and way more cinematic. On a visual effects level, the film doesn’t look incredible, but given this is more meant to replicate the archaic nature of a video game, it weirdly fits regardless especially given how ridiculous some of it can all be. Two major standouts include a giant Car Chase in a desert where the team are trying to escape from a herd of ostriches and and incredibly entertaining scene which involves mandrills and a variety of bridges spaced across a giant ditch. It’s all a lot more inspired and visually stimulating than before and I think it boils down to how some changes needed to be made to have this picture seem as though it has justified its existence, although it never quite supplements the overall pacing. Because, similarly to before, The Next Level only really involves the cast travelling to different locations to accomplish a single task as before, it’s the same tired routine that was already displayed before that makes the film feel like somewhat of a drag. It also adds similarly to the characters since, with the exception of Spencer and DeVito and Glover’s characters who share a very unique bond which becomes one of the film’s big highlights, none of the others have anything to say. Their arcs were already completed before as they needed to learn to truly love and trust each other by being thrust into a situation where they needed to work together to get out. So while the film can definitely have its entertaining moments and some very good comedy sprinkled throughout, you have to really question if seeing this is worth it since nothing terribly new is introduced to keep it feeling as tense of engaging as it should be.
On the more technical side, The Next Level does display some strong filmmaking prowess. Though the editing and cinematography aren’t particularly groundbreaking, it’s highly respectable that for the most part, the film does use a lot of real life locations to bring the world of Jumanji to life, like using New Mexico to bring the large desert dunes to life, along with the general production and set designs looking highly intricate. It’s clear that a lot of hard effort has been put into all of this despite the script making some of it feeling a little unjustified given the money that was obviously thrown into it. Otherwise, this is a very technically sound production that should still have credit given to it regardless.
Jumanji: The Next Level is an overall decent enough venture that works thankfully because a lot of the 2017 predecessor's main qualities are still in tact here. Like before, the dynamic between its characters serve as a strong highlight, the comedy whilst not hugely funny can have its moments, and the set pieces and world building help create that sense of joyous escapism that should keep most of its general audience highly entertained. But because the screenplay and the overall story feel so unremarkably derivative, it’s a bit difficult to appreciate what it does right when it feels like something made more from a manufactured machine rather than something with a story to tell. Thankfully some of the new changes they bring into the mix with its Body Swap story elements and some new unique locations help to make it an entertaining ride while it lasts, but don’t expect this newest venture into the jungle to have as much fine tuning.
FINAL RATING: 6/10 (OKAY)
Terrific Cast Camaraderie
Danny DeVito and Danny Glover’s chemistry and subplot.
Unoriginal and Recycled Story
Low Character Development
Another Dull Villain