Jumanji: The Next Level (2019) Review
THE NEXT LEVEL BEGINS…
The goal for you, I’ll recite in verse. Return the jewel and lift the curse. If you wish to leave game, you must save Jumanji and call out its name!. 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was an interesting sequel to the 1995 film Jumanji; providing a somewhat extension to the original movie as well as standing on its own merits and footing as a soft reboot. Directed by Jake Kasdan, the film, which starred the talents of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillian, and Jack Black, is set twenty-one years after the events of the original Jumanji movie and follows four teenagers who are transported into the video game world of Jumanji and plays as their chosen characters. Welcome to the Jungle received mostly positive reviews from critics and moviegoers, with most praising the video game aesthetics in the world of Jumanji as well as the main quartet of lead characters. In addition, the film grossed over $952 million at the box office worldwide and became the fifth highest grossing film that year. Now, two years after Welcome to the Jungle, Sony Pictures and director Jake Kasdan return once again to the adventurous world of Jumanji with the film Jumanji: The Next Level. Does this latest sequel prove to be an entertaining “new level” or is it just a recycled game?
Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff) has been struggling at college in New York City, feeling unable to project the same confidence level he felt as Dr. Bravestone a year ago in “Jumanji”. Returning home for the holidays, Spencer is forced to share a room with his grandfather, Eddie (Danny DeVito), who’s recovering from a recent surgery. Feeling distraught, Spencer, who has recovered the remains of the Jumanji video game console, slips back into the adventure video game world, triggering concerned from his high school friends, Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain), Martha Kalpy (Morgan Turner), and Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman), who reluctantly return to the game as well to find him. Unfortunately, the transfer doesn’t go quite as planned, with Eddie and his estranged business partner, Milo Walker (Danny Glover), joining the heroes in the new land, with Eddie as Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Milo as Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), Fridge as Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), and Martha as Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillian). Upon returning to Jumanji, the gang quickly find out that the game has changed from their last adventure, with a new quest involving the retrieval of the Falcon Jewel, which the madman warlord Jergan the Brutal (Rory McCann) has stolen from an indigenous Jumanji tribe. As the team tries to battle challenges to reach the boss level, they’re also on the hunt for Spencer, who is somewhere in the vastness of Jumanji’s jungle world.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I stated previously in my review for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, I absolutely loved the original 1995 Jumanji movie as it definitely was a part of childhood as one of my favorite films to watch during my tween years. It’s scary, fun, adventurous, and provide plenty of laughs / heart, with actor Robin Williams leading the charge. Welcome to the Jungle, the long-awaited sequel to the 1995 movie was a bit of “game changer” of sorts as I felt that it was meant for a newer generation of moviegoers. Of course, I thought that the movie was good and the acting talents involved were great, but its wasn’t as scary nor creatively fun as it could’ve been. Yes, it was cool to see the actual “world” of Jumanji and the four main talents of Johnson, Hart, Gillian, and Black were excellent, but there was just something about the project that didn’t set quite right with me as some viewers did. Still, in the end, Welcome to the Jungle set out to what it wanted to accomplished and deliver a fun adventurous movie that had plenty of tween-friendly peril and laughs along the way.
Naturally, this brings me back to talking the next sequel to the Jumanji franchise…. Jumanji: The Next Level. With the success of Welcome to the Jungle, it was almost a forgone conclusion that the studio execs would eventually “green light” a follow-up sequel installment sometime in the near future. So, when they announced that the then titled “Jumanji 3”, it wasn’t a surprise, but (again) it was something to look forward to, especially since the same director would be returning to the project as well as the four primary acting talents (lending their star power once again to proceedings). After that, I really didn’t hear much about the movie until the film’s movie trailers were released during the summertime, which I kept on seeing many times when I went to my weekly movie theater outing. Basically, I saw the trailers for The Next Level anytime I saw a PG or PG-13 film. From the trailer, it looked to be a bit similar to Welcome to the Jungle with a lot of same nuances expected to play out with a few minor tweaks maybe for the story purposes. So, with the movie set to be released during the 2019 holiday season, I was expecting to see The Next Level during its opening weekend, which I did. And what did I think of it? Well, despite borrowing heavily from the previous film, Jumanji: The Next Level still proves to be a fun action / comedy endeavor that works more that it should, especially thanks to the acting talents on the project. It doesn’t exactly “reinvent the wheel” or push any boundaries in creative cinematic storytelling, but rather gives a big-screen adventure romp that will please masses.
Returning to the director’s chair is Jake Kasdan, who previous directed Welcome to the Jungle as well other films such as Bad Teacher and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Given the popular success that the previous Jumanji film had and his overall familiarity with the property, Kasdan seems like a suitable choice in helming this next chapter in the Jumanji franchise. This also helps to continue on what he was able to craft with Welcome to the Jungle; building upon the previous film’s characters and world to make for a wholesome endeavor. Thus, Kasdan jumps right back into the “Jumanji” world (quite literally) and hits the ground running with nice and breezy intro, re-introducing us (the viewers) with the film’s main characters and initial setup for the film. Kasdan doesn’t quite “rock the boat” with the Welcome to the Jungle formula (i.e. if it ain’t broke, but don’t fix) and mostly the narrative premise intact by simply changing up a few things along the way; allowing a sort of “new challenge” for the returning players. What definitely works is in the overall action / comedy aesthetics, with Kasdan staging plenty of moments for his cast of characters to play around with these scenarios. This means that The Next Level has a blockbuster “larger-than-life” environment, which is filled with very much like an old-school video game (a somewhat sequel game), with new lands to explore, a new quest item to retrieve, and a new bad guy to defeat. There’s one particular scene involving a series of bridges, which Kasdan executes quite well and certainly acts like a large centerpiece of a video game world. Throw into some zany / silly comedy angst and wisecracking jokes that’s peppered throughout the movie and you get this particular film. All in all, if you liked Welcome to the Jungle, Kasdan definitely makes sure that The Next Level will be to your liking.
As a presentation, The Next Level feels like genuine blockbuster endeavor; offering up the same “look and feel” from Welcome to the Jungle through its visual appeal and world-building nuances. While a lot of new areas are introduced in the actual “world of Jumanji”, each one having its own distinct look in the vast adventurous video game. Of course, they are a bit cliché of sorts, including a desert, marketplace, jungle, and mountain fortress, but then again it all does seem to fit the classic world areas of a classic video game adventure tale; befitting the world of Jumanji in its entirety. Thus, it breaks even. Still, the actual lay out and design of each new terrain / landscape / settings that the movie’s narrative has to offer is quite appealing and vividly brought to life (a sort of steampunk / Indian jungle motif). So, the film’s technical and “behind the scenes” creators, including the entire art direction team, production designs by Bill Brzeski, set decorations by Danielle Berman, and costume designs by Louise Mingerbach, are all great and definitely deliver on capturing the visual aspect of the film. Additionally, the film’s cinematography work by Gyula Pados helps aid in the movie’s visual appeal and still manages to make the film have plenty of “eye candy” (cinematically speaking) throughout. Also, the film’s score, which was done by Henry Jackman is melodically solid, playing up a lot of the adventurous themes as well as dramatic / quieter composition pieces.
Unfortunately, problems do arise in the movie, which doesn’t make The Next Level go to “the next level” of the series. What do I mean? Well, the basic principal / premise of the feature heavily relies on the previous film, which is partial understandable. However, the formula that worked in Welcome to the Jungle is just simply retooled and repurposed once again for the narrative of this particular movie. Thus, a lot of the same stuff / scenarios from the last Jumanji movie happen again The Next Level. Perhaps this reason stems from the film’s script, which was penned by Kasdan as well as Jeff Pinker and Scott Rosenberg, which takes a lot of the nuances from the previous feature’s story and just rehashes it in a new medium narrative. Essentially, the story of The Next Level is pretty much the same thing with a new quest for another stolen jewel, which was taken from another stock-like main bad guy character. Along the way, they go through different arenas on the map (i.e. the Oasis is the like Bazar from Welcome to the Jungle), meet a new character halfway through (Ming = Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough), and have character bickering that somehow gets resolved by the time the movie reaches its climax. It’s all well and good, but the movie’s script never allows itself to go beyond the Welcome to the Jungle parameters; sticking to what made that entry good and just simply going with that.
Additionally, the movie’s narrative also moves quite fast (faster than the last installment), with many of the big storytelling elements being rushed with heavy exposition. There’s not a whole lot of time for the feature (or its characters) to “stop and smell the roses” as they’re always on the move; following the script’s path from place to place at break-neck speed. Though that seems quite odd as the movie’s runtime is only 123 minutes (two hours and three minutes) in length. Plus, some of the comedic bits in the movie are a bit repetitive and wear out their welcome after hearing the line of jokes every ten minutes or so. Essentially, Kasdan doesn’t take creative steps in trying to “shake up” the Jumanji world, with The Next Level lacking ingenuity and originality. All of this means that the movie never really takes the next step to evolve the Jumanji story like how it did from the original 1995 film to the 2017 one, which I do have to admit is disappointing and biggest drawback that the feature has going against it.
Much like Welcome to the Jungle, the criticism and setbacks of the film are greatly elevated by the film’s cast, with most of the principal cast returning for The Next Level; bringing their “A” game to the feature’s proceedings and certainly having fun in reprising their Jumanji characters once again. Of the main Jumanji avatar character, The Next Level actually gives the character of Ruby Roundhouse the most screen-time, with actress Karen Gillian, known for her roles in Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Who, and Avengers: Endgame, playing the character with ease. It’s fun to see her getting more of the “spotlight” in the story and as she plays up the role of a badass female fighter video game character as well as sharing Martha’s personality. Behind her is the character of Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (i.e. the curvy genius), who is humorously brought to life once again by the talented Jack Black. Known for his roles in King Kong, School of Rock, and Kung Fu Panda, Black certainly knows how to land comedic timing with his various jokes and sight gags (much like what he did previously in the last Jumanji movie) and does so again in The Next Level; playing up two different personalities with time around with Fridge and Bethany personas in various parts of the film. So, basically, Black is once again standout of the four Jumanji avatar characters; delivering the most laughs throughout the feature.
Interestingly, the other two main leads Dr. Smolder Bravestone and Franklin “Mouse” Finbar go through the most change in character dynamics from the previous Jumanji movie, which is mostly due to the body switching scenarios that play up when Eddie and Milo go into these avatar characters. Of course, actors Dwayne Johnson, known for his roles in Moana, Central Intelligence, and Fast and the Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, and Kevin Hart, known for his roles in The Wedding Ringer, Central Intelligence, and Ride Along, are up to the task in playing up these two character personas and actually bring a lot of laughs to the proceedings. Seeing Johnson trying to mimic DeVito’s snappy “old man” dialogue is hilarious, while hearing Hart trying to impersonate Glover’s slow talking demeanor / dialect is pure fun with plenty of laugh out-loud moments whenever his character is on-screen.
Collectively, these four acting talents are the main staples of Kasdan’s Jumanji movies with The Next Level reinforcing that idea and presenting them front and center for majority of the film’s runtime. Naturally, all four have great screen presence and is quite clear that the quartet get along with great chemistry and simply having fun in the respective roles.
Once again, their teenage “real world” protagonist counterparts (Spencer, Fridge, Martha, and Bethany), the four youthful actors that were chosen do a good job in their respective roles. This includes Alex Wolff (My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 and Patriots Day) as the nerdy Spencer Glipin, Ser’Darius Blain (Survivor’s Remorse and Camp X-Ray) as the jock as Anthony “Fridge” Johnson, Morgan Turner (Invincible and Remember Me) as the spunky teenager Martha Kalpy, and Madison Iseman (Still the King and Laid in America) as the warming Bethany Walker. Much like the previous movie, these four mostly are represented at the beginning and end of the feature, which again is part of Kasdan’s make-up for these two Jumanji movies. Thus, their acting ability is not called into question, but rather their minimal on-screen time that makes them less impressionable in comparison to their Jumanji avatar actors. Again, I kind of expected this to happen in The Next Level, so it didn’t bother me.
Likewise, as before, actor / singer Nick Jonas (Camp Rock and Kingdom) plays the Jumanji avatar character of Jefferson “seaplane” McDonough with actor Colin Hanks (King Kong and Fargo) playing his real-life counterpart of Alex Vreek. As to be expected, but characters are pushed a little to the side as they aren’t so much the “focus” on the main narrative, but the inclusion Jonas / Hanks in the film is a welcomed; reinforcing the notion of continuity. The same can be partial said for the character of Nigel Billingsley, who is played by actor Rhys Darby (Wrecked and Flight of the Conchords), is an amusing return as the Jumanji NPC character.
Of the new characters added, the character of Ming, a thief / pick-pocketer Jumanji avatar character, gets the most memorable addition to the cast. Played by actress Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell), Ming is fun character, especially since the roster of Jumanji avatar characters didn’t include a thief-like character (something commonplace in action / RPG adventure games) and its amusing to see her play various character roles when the main gang does some “body switching” of the avatars. Behind her, veteran actors Danny DeVito (Batman Returns and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon and Sorry to Bother You) play the two-elderly character of Spencer’s grandfather, Eddie, and his estranged business partner friend, Milo. Though their screen-time is limited (due to the nature of the film), both DeVito and Glover are perfectly fine in the respective roles. Likewise, actor Rory McCann (Game of Thrones and Alexander) fits the bill for The Next Level’s antagonist “main bad guy” role of Jurgen the Brutal. Like Bobby Cavanagh’s Van Pelt in the previous film, there isn’t much character building to Jurgen beyond his initial setup of being “the big bad” of the feature. Still, McCann towering presence and demeanor certainly makes the character enjoyable throughout.
The rest of the cast, including actress Dania Ramirez (X-Men: The Last Stand and Heroes) as an NPC seductress / Dr. Bravestone’s ex-girlfriend, actor Massi Furlan (Aim High and Tumbleweed: A True Story), and actor John Ross Bowie (The Big Bang Theory and Sex Drive) as Jurgen’s unnamed minion / spokesperson, are in minor supporting roles, but get the job done within the limited screen time that’s allotted for them (whether a plot device or just a simple dialogue sequence). As a side-note, there is a fun little “east egg” cameo from the first Jumanji movie. I won’t spoil it, but it was still a little fun nod to the original 1995 feature.
Lastly, be sure to stick around for a secret scene at the film’s ending credits. Its not much, but it does setup another potential sequel; one that could be a very different Jumanji movie more so than the last two installments.
The game is back and is ready for another adventurous quest of challenges and peril in the movie Jumanji: The Next Level. Director Jake Kasdan latest film sees the return to the world of Jumanji and builds upon the characters (and their stories) that he helped established in the 2017 film; offering a new quest, new characters, and delving into more humorous scenarios along the way. While the movie does feel a little repetitive to the previous installment and some of jokes don’t exactly land quite well (or just seem tiresome), the rest of the feature provides plenty of blockbuster appeal within its adventurous romp through a video game world, especially thanks Kasdan’s steady direction, visual aesthetic presentation, and very likeable characters thanks to the feature’s cast. To me, I liked this movie. Much like what I said in Welcome to the Jungle, the movie was good and the film’s cast definitely aided in that endeavor, but I still prefer the original 1995 Jumanji over these two sequels. There’s crystal clear mass appeal fun to them (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but you simply just beat out the original Jumanji feature. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a solid “recommended” as I’m sure many out there will find this sequel feature to their liking. As mentioned, the movie’s ending leaves the door open for another Jumanji adventure. Whether or not that sequel will materialize is still uncertain. Regardless, Jumanji: The Next Level is still a movie that doesn’t color outside the lines, but rather reinforces its proven platform; elevating (and exploring) more of its various characters (players / avatars) within its venturesome world of that is Jumanji.
3.6 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: December 13th, 2019
Reviewed On: December 16th, 2019
Jumanji: The Next Level is 123 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content, and some language