Fun, fast-paced and exciting, Jumanji: The Next Level establishes itself as a good sequel if falling slightly short of its predecessor.
My initial response was one of dismay and disappointment when I found out that Jumanji had been green-lit for another sequel. After the 2017 reboot, subtitled Welcome to the Jungle, managed to defy expectations as a genuinely great movie, there didn’t seem to be much room for a further instalment. The first ended on quite a definitive note, and anything after would surely feel like a mismatched puzzle to try and line up the continuity and create a forced sense of flow – at least, that’s what I thought. Imagine my surprise, then, as the first ten minutes of Jumanji: The Next Level tackle this issue head-on and craft an organic way for the characters to end up back in the video-game world. Granted, it’s no Oscar-winning narrative work, but the ideas and mature themes behind this sequel help create a more grounded feel. Issues of separation, ageing, self-confidence, and death are reflected upon in a way that helps give the narrative greater purpose. These help to squash the feeling that this is simply a sequel for money’s sake. Instead, The Next Level works as a natural continuation of the previous film.
What helps breathe more fresh air into this sequel is the addition of new characters. While only present for a short time on-screen, Danny DeVito helps navigate the monotony of exposition with brief spurts of signature humour. He also poses as a quirky personality that other actors have great fun impersonating. While Dwayne Johnson tries his best to fill the boots of comedy legend DeVito, his mirroring often falls flat and starves the screen of laughs. When another new addition, Awkwafina, gets to try her hands at the character, we are able to sit comfortably feeling like we are watching a warped version of DeVito. She garners laughs and adds an extra level (pun intended) to the roster of characters, her presence especially appreciated against the backdrop of the sausage fest that is the majority male cast.
It is Kevin Hart’s impersonation of Danny Glover that deserves the most praise, putting on an undoubtedly impressive performance that is almost indistinguishable from that of Glover. Every time he spoke or expressed a slight characteristic of Glover’s, the audience who recognised the veteran actor would usually fall into fits of laughter. Jack Black is a treat to watch, as usual. Even though the script affords Karen Gillan little time to shine, she holds herself well against her castmates and adds some self-awareness that the plot of Jumanji: The Next Level sorely needs. Gillan helps balance the laughs and makes the lack of storytelling feel less of an issue, with the incongruity between her seriousness and the bonkers plot acting as a device which only heightens comedic effect.
The Next Level suffers from some surprisingly underwhelming visual effects, with creatures sometimes looking a little blurry around the edges. In the distance, backdrops lose their depth and become a flat dimension that the characters are jarringly marked out against. Johnson probably gives the weakest performance in the whole film, and I’m beginning to feel a sense of fatigue from watching the wrestler-turned-actor play who he plays best… himself. He does try to spice it up a bit, though it still feels like you are watching Johnson even when he’s trying hard to become someone else. It drags on a little too long and, while it is amusing, is not as funny as the previous film – relying a little too heavily on the same laughs produced in Welcome to the Jungle, mainly the gender-swapping element and Black’s apparent ‘obesity’.
Despite these issues, the film evolves from its predecessor as any video-game sequel would, throwing in new characters, obstacles and a different storyline to breathe more life into the franchise. While it is often a joy to watch, it lacks the same rewatchability as the first and does not do enough to be considered as essential as Welcome to the Jungle. That being said, Jumanji: The Next Level is still a very entertaining watch that leaves me hopeful for any new possible chapters of which it hints towards.
Jumanji: The Next Level, directed by Jake Kasdan, is distributed in the UK by Columbia Pictures, certificate 12A.