Director: Jake Kasdan
Writers: Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner & Scott Rosenberg
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart
Despite the fact that they all made a pact with each other to never enter the computer game world of Jumanji again, Spencer (Alex Wolff) decides to go back, leading to Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Martha (Morgan Turner) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) having to go back in and rescue him. However, Spencer’s Grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his elderly friend Milo (Danny Glover) are also accidentally sucked into the game. Not only have they all swapped characters within the game, but they also discover that the game itself has evolved and is more perilous than before.
2017’s thoroughly enjoyable Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle did not only prove that if done right, a sequel/ reboot can be very successful, but it also (and more crucially from a personal point of view) proved that Jack Black and Kevin Hart do actually have the ability to be likeable on screen! Cinema audiences seemed to also like it and, as it made money, a sequel was inevitable. As there was a considerable gap between 1995’s Jumanji and Welcome to the Jungle, it meant that the new instalment inevitably had very distinctive differences from its predecessor, but that does present an even greater challenge for this new instalment as only two years have passed.
It is undeniable fact The Next Level only exists because Welcome to the Jungle made money, but as much as it (and pretty much all blockbuster films) are essentially products that exist for rather cynical reasons, that doesn’t mean that those involved will not necessarily rise to the challenge and actually make an effort with this new instalment?
Well, sadly they don’t, and though the writers do add some new elements and characters, there is very much a dominant feeling of ‘if it aint broke’ to The Next Level (hence the title). Of course, the writers do predictably rely very heavily on the argument that it is supposed to be a computer game, but there is a little bit too much of relying on the same formula as before, and at times it does feel like they make the story up as they go along.
The main new elements that do work are the introduction of Danny DeVito and Danny Glover’s characters, who also get sucked into the game along with the five characters from the first film (including Nick Jonas’ Alex). There is also a new development that there are certain levels of the game that have water that allows the personalities to change into different characters. This is admittedly very contrived and gimmicky, but it means we get to see the actors playing the video game characters doing impressions of the real-world actors that are supposedly inside their bodies. Though (as stated) it is very gimmicky, it does provide a lot of the film’s best comic moments and certainly adds to the general feeling of fun the that the film always tries to have – it is supposed to be a video game after all! This gives a chance for the actors involved to flex their acting muscles and have some fun at the same time, highlights include Awkwafina playing Danny DeVito and Kevin Hart playing Danny Glover. However, Dwayne Johnson does not fare so well; he is of course great at playing himself, but initially in the film it is Danny DeVito that has become his character of Dr Bravestone, but he just does not have the range to pull it off. The characters are also given new abilities and weaknesses on their ‘lists’ – why this happens is not explained, but it does provide some fun (if once again slightly contrived) new elements to the plot.
The introduction of the two new characters means there are more characters in the video game, and this consists of Awkwafina’s Ming and a horse, and they are welcome additions (even the horse). Meanwhile both DeVito and Glover’s characters have their own very satisfying and emotional character arcs. Likewise there is also Alex Wolff’s Spencer, as with the first film, he feels like a loser and longs to escape the reality of his seemingly pointless and pathetic life (a sentiment many of us will be able to relate to – video games are about escapism after all) and become Dr Bravestone again, but this never gets developed quite as much as perhaps it could. Likewise, the real lives of the rest of the real-world characters have no real focus at all.
Once again, the overall plot of the film involves the classic McGuffin that the characters have to find, but this once again just returns to the argument that as it is a video game that is basically the point. Though a valid argument, it would have been nice if the writers had put a bit more effort instead of just relying on this fact and essentially giving us the same film again (with only a few minor additions). In fact, it certainly feels that all involved feel they can get away with a generic plot and throwaway bad guys with absolutely no development (especially Rory McCann’s less than subtly named antagonist Jurgen the Brutal) because of this fact that it is set in a video game, and this does lead to the repetitive nature of the film make it feel slightly exhausting, especially with the unnecessarily overlong running time of over two hours. Some of the action sequences do look good (but with this budget they should) and The Next Level is overall an entertaining enough watch, but if there is to be a third one (and this is certainly hinted at) then the writers will need to inject some fresh ideas.
Though entertaining enough, Jumanji: The Next Level is predominantly way too much of a copy and paste of its predecessor (plus a few gimmicky additions) to be anything more than forgettable, escapist fun.