Jumanji: The Next Level **

A lackluster sequel to the vastly superior (and more fun) 2017 hit. It’s bigger and more expansive, but not better.

Is it worth $10? No

“Jumanji: The Next Level” is bigger and more expansive than its 2017 predecessor, but that doesn’t make it better. While the added characters and, yes, levels, suggest director and co-writer Jake Kasdan (who also directed the 2017 film) has appreciably upped the stakes, this time the charm is lost.

High school friends Spencer (Alex Wolff), Bethany (Madison Iseman), Martha (Morgan Turner) and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) went their separate ways for college, but reunite around the holidays. More accurately, three of them reunite; Spencer is busy putting the pieces of the Jumanji video game back together so he can once again go inside the game. His motivations are never satisfactorily revealed, which is one of the film’s many problems.

When his friends realize what he’s done, they go into Jumanji to save him. Spencer’s grandfather, Eddie (Danny DeVito), and Eddie’s former work partner, Milo (Danny Glover), are also sucked into the game. The avatars are once again Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Prof. Oberon (Jack Black), “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), and Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). A new avatar, Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina), also joins the fray. They must defeat Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann) and reset Jumanji to peace if they’re to get out of the game alive.
The movie happened quickly. Filming began in February 2019 and wrapped in May, leaving only seven months for post-production. For a movie of this scale, and with this many visual effects, that’s incredibly fast.

It’s not a surprise, then, that it feels rushed even though the pace of the story is slow. One of the hardest things about making sequels is maintaining creativity so the characters still feel fresh and fun. “The Next Level” struggles with this. Consider: In the 2017 film we didn’t know the rules of the Jumanji world, so when they died and came back to life it wasn’t clear why, or what it meant. Later on we discover that each avatar has three lives, and by the time we learned this each was well on the way to using them up.

In “The Next Level” we already know this rule, so when the deaths occur they feel forced. We know, logically, that they have to die twice for there to be real stakes and emotional investment in the finale. Thus there’s no real peril for much of the movie, and it plays ho-hum rather than exciting as a result.

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What’s more, the new elements either strain for interest or grow tiresome. Action scenes involving ostriches, mandrills, and various bad guys fail to better what we’ve seen before. Johnson and Hart doing imitations of DeVito and Glover, respectively, are amusing at first but play out quickly, to the point that it’s annoying. Other characters, such as Switchblade (Massi Furlan), should have more screen time.

To its credit, the ambition is there in “Jumanji: The Next Level,” and the ways in which the world expands could’ve been exhilarating if handled better. The last scene sets up another sequel – here’s hoping they don’t rush it.

Did you know?
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (2017) earned $962 million worldwide off a $90 million budget.

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