Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle had no right to be as enjoyable as it was. The 1994 film is still held in high regard, but Welcome to the Jungle had crazy comedic chemistry amongst the main cast. The reboot also managed to expand upon the lore introduced in the original film by modernizing it for the current generation. It’s the type of film that looks terrible and is probably considered unwatchable by anyone who hasn’t seen it, but is incredibly funny and undeniably entertaining.
Jumanji: The Next Level picks up about a year after the events of the previous film. Martha, Bethany, Fridge, and Spencer have all gone their separate ways by traveling the world or going to college in different states. But since it’s the holidays, they’re all returning to New Hampshire. Spencer is having the worst time as he struggles through school, drags himself to a dead-end job, and has horrendous luck on a regular basis. When nothing seems to be going his way, he decides to return to the one place where he felt in control and valued; the world of Jumanji.
But Spencer doesn’t tell anyone where he’s going, so Martha, Bethany, and Fridge come looking for him while Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and former business associate Milo (Danny Glover) come along without permission. The console was busted at the end of the last film, so the game is completely different this time around with unpredictable glitches and new strengths and weaknesses for familiar characters and an entirely new roster of new characters.
The humor in the sequel starts off rough as it mostly focuses on stereotypical old people comedy; old people falling over, being grouchy, making silly faces for no reason, and stumbling around unsuccessfully because they’re old and have lost the will to live. What makes it worse is that Danny DeVito has to vocalize this constantly while complaining about how much it sucks getting old, his hip surgery, and his inability to understand anything despite how many times it’s explained to him.
On the bright side, it does lead to something at the end of the film but it’s a minuscule payoff. The film has a roundabout way of highlighting the benefits of self-worth and growing old that are summed up in a couple lines of dialogue at the end of the film. It doesn’t make up for Spencer’s stretched out emo tantrum or DeVito’s shrill yet raspy squawking that gets on your last nerve as himself for the first third of the film that is then parroted by Dwayne Johnson for like another hour.
The body switching element The Next Level introduces is more fun for the actors than it is for the audience. The reason they’re able to switch bodies is explained in a way that feels premature and underdeveloped. The film is basically like, “Here’s this thing that’s a weird color that allows you to do this impossible thing if you touch it,” and that’s the entire explanation. But most of the actors get to portray multiple people who are totally different from one another; it’s basically two or three unique roles for each of them all wrapped into one.
Rory McCann portrays Jergen the Brutal in the film; the big villain. He feeds the remains of a guy to hyenas in front of nearly everyone in a small village and that is his highlight. He’s basically a pushover as a film villain from then on out that glides on his fearful reputation without really doing anything to intimidate the audience or make us equally reject him.
Once the film finds its groove and isn’t just young people clashing with old people, The Next Level can be quite fun. The dune buggy/ostrich chase is a personal favorite. The ostriches are so violent and mean, their numbers are intimidating, and Dwayne Johnson punching one of them is awesome.
The vine bridge/mandrill sequence is exciting too since it also features this overwhelming horde of wild and unbelievably angry mandrills hollering, swinging, and stomping to their heart’s content; they are absolutely blood hungry.
It seems like the new strengths and weaknesses for each character factors into finding value in yourself; the main message The Next Level tinkers with. Sometimes this new ability is kept a secret until a pivotal moment implying that we all have something special inside all of us that we never know how to use until the moment is just right. The sequel is at its best during these fresher moments where you’re less likely to predict what will happen. The throwbacks to the previous film mostly feel purposely formulaic. Those elements are there to appease the masses, but they’re a cheap and easy pop that get the job done in a lazy way.
Jumanji: The Next Level is pure popcorn entertainment. It’s silly and absurd at times, but it’s also a family movie with action and adventure that is fun for everyone. The duality of three of the four main roles in the film give the sequel an unexpected complexity that is deserving of praise. It won’t win any awards and it’ll likely be forgotten about when looking back at the great films of 2019, but it’s also a sandy exclamation point at the end of a hectic year. Having something out there that doesn’t require a lot of thinking while offering a thrilling amusement park ride that takes control for a couple hours is a comforting form of therapy that comes highly recommended.
- The animal action sequences.
- Jack Black’s desert “exercise” routine.
- Awkwafina’s Danny DeVito impression outshines Dwayne Johnson’s.
- Rubbing our nose in geriatric behavior.
- Story elements are beyond juvenile.
- Rory McCann not living up to villain potential.