Those that loved the the 2017 franchise reboot, "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" are probably not going to have a problem with its new sequel...but that doesn't mean it's good.
The hit 1995 Robin Williams-led film, "Jumanji" is so beloved in our memories, that the idea of a "game that comes to life" seems like a great idea for a reboot. "Welcome to the Jungle" surprised everybody and surpassed all expectations at the box office, when it went on to make over $400 million stateside, and nearly 1 billion dollars worldwide. Most shocking of all perhaps, is that it was met with love from critics and movie-goers alike, so a sequel was a no-brainer.
And so, the sequel, "Jumanji: The Next Level," is a no-brainer, in that it is devoid of thought. It doesn't stand out as one of those "good" or "worthy" sequels, and instead, it can be filed into that disappointing category of "not as good as the original" or if we're being honest, the overcrowded "cash-grab" basket of films. That's not to say it's all bad...it's not. In fact, it's enjoyable enough. It just would have felt nice had they tried to expand things beyond the fun of swapping out character/actor avatars, which seems to be the only new concept it adds into the mix.
The plot this time around is so thin that it doesn't even warrant going into. The whole cast from the last film returns, with nerdy Spencer (Alex Wolff), popular Bethany (Madison Iseman), socially-awkward Martha (Morgan Turner) and jock Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain) entering into the video game world of Jumanji and inhabiting the bodies of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan as their in-game "avatars." They must complete their mission in order to return home, which involves a completely dull and unmemorable villain, this time played by Game of Thrones veteran, Rory McCann.
In addition to mixing up which kids inhabit which avatar, also sucked into the game this time is Spencer's stodgy grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his former business partner, the slow-talking Milo (Danny Glover). On the avatar side of things, Awkwafina joins the mix as a new thief character.
And pretty much that's it. There is some fun to be had, as their was in the last film, with watching a big manly stud like Dwayne Johnson play as if he's inhabited by a wary, geeky outcast, or watching Jack Black as a spoiled teenage girl. This time, Johnson gets to give a Danny DeVito impression through much of the film, and at times, he's pretty funny (less effective is Kevin Hart playing as old man Milo, a character that sucks all of the life out of Kevin's usual brand of jumpy comedy).
The gimmick works for a while in "The Next Level," but it doesn't last. Before you know it, they're just jumping, running and climbing their way through the next set of obstacles thrown before them, in the same exact setting as in the last film (couldn't they have imagined a new world or "level" for them to explore this time around?). The action is adequate, the characters just ho-hum, the laughs few and far between and never rising above the level of mild amusement.
An inexplicable cliffhanger-ending shows that with this installment, the makers of "Jumanji: The Next Level" now have the confidence that they're going to take even more of your money with future installments in the franchise. But this game and franchise was fun while it lasted, and barring some major creative juices being pumped into its system, it deserves to be boxed up and stuck in the attic.
Even still, this movie checks all the boxes of what can be considered passable, PG-13, family entertainment, and if it makes another boatload of money (which it is set to do), then for "Jumanji: The Franchise," it will be far from game over.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy.
Run Time: 2 hours 3 minutes.
Starring: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Colin Hanks, Awkwafina, Madison Iseman, Rory McCann.
Co-Written and Directed by Jake Kasdan ("Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle," "Sex Tape," "Bad Teacher").
"Jumanji: The Next Level" is in theaters on Friday, December 13th, 2019.
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