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Jumanji: The Next Level (2019) Review: Dir. Jake Kasdan

Jumanji The Next Level review: When 2017’s Jumani: Welcome to the Jungle was released, it came as something of a surprise. There were many (myself included) who didn’t think the continuation of the Robin Williams 1995 looked to hold much value. 

But then it came out of the gate and proved to be a riotous adventure movie, playfully combining video game mechanics with a blockbuster family action flick to hilarious and exciting effect. It also had an incredibly game cast in the form of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan, all having a great deal of fun playing a group of teenagers trapped in video game avatar bodies.

Jumanji The Next Level review

When the film proved to be as successful as it was (to the roar of nearly a billion dollars no less) a sequel was inevitable. A quick two years later, it’s here, as the first big Christmas-time blockbuster vying for your family ticket prices. And while it may promise that it’s a whole different game this time out, it quickly becomes apparent that there’s not much new on offer here. 

With Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Martha (Morgan Turner) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) haven gone on their separate paths since graduating High School, the friends that escaped the perils of Jumanji two years ago are all excited to reconnect back home over the Christmas break. 

All, that is, except Spencer. With his anxieties getting the better of him in his new life in New York, he begins to think that in order to regain his confidence, he needs to go back to the place he found it; Jumanji. Repairing the busted game, he re-enters the perilous magical jungle realm, prompting Fridge, Martha, and Bethany to go in and get him out. But to throw an extra spanner into the jungle antics, 

The game also drags in Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his old business partner Milo (Danny Glover) along for the ride.

The set up for this sequel does open the door to some more antics based around video game quirks, particularly in the realm of glitches (who hasn’t been frustrated by a video game glitch!?). But it soon becomes clear that the film isn’t that interested in changing the plot up all that much at all. 

The action sequences are changed out for different locations, the lessons are all pretty much the same, and the idea of the game glitching rarely makes much of an impact.

So, as sequels go, it is one of the more lazily plotted ones in recent memory, relying on recalling many of the same gags and character beats from the first one. But where the film still really works is the strength of the cast of actors playing the video game avatars. 

Mixing it up a little bit in regards to who is embodying who, the fun of this film comes from watching all these charismatic actors have an absolute ball in their roles. Jack Black and Karen Gillan drive the plot a lot more this time around and spar very well with each other, but the real pull from the cast is seeing Johnson and Hart portray avatars inhabited by DeVito and Glover. Both clearly relish the chance to just get very silly with it all, with Hart proving to be particularly hilarious embodying Glover. 

In terms of new cast members, Awkwafina also proves a real treat, both hilarious and incredibly empathetic. It is the level of energy that these performances bring that keeps this whole business rolling along throughout the familiar plot mechanics.

For a film which has its origins in a ’90s movie, it is perhaps rather fitting that it does the very ’90s sequel thing of being pretty much exactly the same but with different set dressings and a couple of new characters thrown into the mix. It means that it feels like a little bit of a letdown when you consider how much of a surprise ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ turned out to be. But, with the promise that a potential sequel will change things up a bit, and the incredible energy supplied by this cast, still makes this a more than enjoyable rumble in the jungle

Jumanji: The Next Level is released in cinemas on 11th December.

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