Jumanji: The Next Level is directed by Jake Kasdan. The film stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Ser'Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Marin Hinkle, Danny Glover, and Danny DeVito. It’s the third film based on the book Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg (and fourth installment in the film series if Zathura is counted).
Some time has passed since the events of the previous film, with friends Spencer, Bethany, Martha, and Fridge having moved on with their lives. Spencer returns from college for the holidays, only to find his grandfather and an old friend there. At a crossroads in his life, Spencer returns to the world of Jumanji, with his friends eventually following to bring him home following his disappearance. But things have changed this time around, including the entry of some unexpected newcomers to the game…
I have fond memories of Jumanji as a child, not only from the 1995 film starring Robin Williams (RIP), but also the original picture book from Chris Van Allsburg, which I’d read in school a good two years prior to the classic film from ’95 (and the book itself is actually much older than that). I had my doubts about the franchise entering the modern world with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle two years ago, but the end result was one of the most satisfying action comedies of recent years despite my initial reservations. Two years later, we’ve got a sequel. The Next Level does a solid job expanding of the video game concept introduced in its predecessor, and bringing in the older generation results in some hilarious and heartwarming moments alike.
The superb casting of the previous movie continues here, with all the major players returning. The true attraction here is seeing the lead actors from the previous film having to take on new personalities due to the different people who inhabit them this time around. The results are hilarious (if you’d told me I’d one day be seeing a movie with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doing his best Danny DeVito impersonation, I never would’ve believed you!) It’s tough to go into specifics in regards to the characters without giving away spoilers, so I’ll keep this section relatively short. But let me be the first to say the newcomers, including the always-entertaining Awkwafina, don’t disappoint.
Much like the previous film, this one juggles action and comedy, but even has its share of more relatable dramatic human moments. It’s that movie that manages to strike an ideal balance, and the overall tone doesn’t disappoint. One second, you’ll be laughing at the characters’ antics. The next, you’ll be entertained by superb action scenes. Despite its two-hour length, the movie keeps your attention, and this never comes at the expense of a human element too many action films and comedies lack.
If there’s one negative to be had here, it’s that it essentially goes with the same “video game” concept as its predecessor. This isn’t totally a bad thing, but the movie does ultimately end up feeling like something of a “remix” of the previous film. Likewise, with so many characters in the movie (including several new additions) it does become difficult to juggle everyone’s story at times.
It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t necessarily top its predecessor, but The Next Level of a worthy addition to the world of Jumanji, and action/comedy cinema. It’s well worth seeing in theaters this holiday season.
Rating: Three stars out of four.
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