Jumanji: The Next Level (aka Jumanji 2) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was such a surprising and funny new format for the magical jungle adventure story that it was natural a sequel would be on the way. But now the team behind the new Jumanji must accomplish a new task; finding a reason to get back into the game world. Not an easy task considering their previous goal was to strip out the old and now they need to only restructure their current template. Thankfully, there’s just enough present to garner another dip back into the body-swapping adventure.
Years have passed and the high school foursome has moved on to better things. Well, all except for Spencer, who isn’t keen to go back home for the holidays. He envies his friends as their lives seem to be so much better than his own. Rather than meet up with his old crew, he decides to stay at home with his grandpa, played by Danny Devito. Both of them hate their lives as Devito is trying to push away his old friend played by Danny Glover. Devito’s advice; enjoy the prime of your life because it’s all downhill from here.
This is a sufficient enough excuse for Spencer to unearth the Jumanji game once more and escape into a fantastical world. This premise speaks a little more volumes to the nature of the appeal of video games; that’s we’re drawn back to them as a means of coping. Also, let’s face it; if your life seems to suck and you had the option to hop into the body of Dwayne Johnson, wouldn’t you take that risk one more time?
Of course, Spencer can’t stay in the game. Aside from the console being busted and bringing out errors in the mystical program, his friends of Fridge, Martha, and Bethany can’t just leave him hanging. They venture back into the game along with Devito and Glover in tow. With no means of picking their own characters, there’s much body-switching happening. Devito is now inside the body of Dwayne Johnson and Glover now inside Kevin Hart. Both of them are not used to these new bodies and are not as adept at video games as the younger crowd. Some hi-jinks ensue from such a scenario.
Perhaps the most distracting element of such a picture is that the game world and the real world don’t have the easiest of crossover. This is mostly due to the game actors falling more back on exaggerations for embodying their characters. I’m sorry but Johnson can just not do a good Devito impression. You know who can, though, is Awkwafina and she thankfully shows up when there is even more body-switching going on. Also, a lot of the familiar characters apparently fall back into their old stereotypes. For example, Bethany seems to have evolved from the perky popular girl to be a more well-rounded person but when she slips back into the body of Jack Black, she is right back to her exaggerated tone of “hiiiiiii.” Another curse of the game perhaps?
At any rate, for retreating to most of the familiar, including a standard MacGuffin adventure film typical of movies set in the jungle, most of the chemistry holds up. The action is exaggerated and exciting, from a dune buggy chase to an elaborate sequence of rotating bridges while wild animals chase after our heroes. My only problem with this structure is that a lot of the personal challenges these characters face are all but resolved before the big action climax, throwing little extra drama into the proceeding theatrics. Still, fun but a bigger punch could’ve been dealt merely than the one Dwayne Johnson serves up so well.
Jumanji: The Next Level doesn’t have a whole to make it a superior sequel but still plenty to be worthy of a return. I still laughed and smirk at the hilarity and slapstick throughout even if it all seems standard by this point in the series. It’s clear by the end of the picture, however, that Jumanji is going to need more of a major upgrade for the third outing than a mere add-on as with this picture.