Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: JUMANJI – THE NEXT LEVEL (no spoilers)

My review could easily be done in one sentence: If you liked Jumanji: Welcome To the Jungle, you are going to like JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL. It’s that simple. It’s a more of the same adventure with a couple of twists here and there to qualify it as a sequel and not an almost straight up remake like The Hangover: Part II was. However, a word of warning, with me at least, they will not be able to get away with the same thing a third time, something new MUST happen or the premise is going to run its course. Thankfully, an almost right after the credits start, a scene shows that the franchise might have an ace up it sleeve to come back one more time. The reason why the first (or is it second?) Jumanji worked so well was not necessarily the story, the action sequences, and it was definitely not because of a well developed villain, but it was the chemistry of the four main leads: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, and Kevin Hart (with Nick Jonas thrown in halfway through the film). That’s what made Welcome To The Jungle semi-special. It is also what makes this film semi-special too, as the chemistry is still there, even though some of them have different personalities than they did before.

The problems with this one though are the exact same problems that there were in the first film. The action sequences aren’t too memorable (they are fine though) and the movies have a big villain problem. I didn’t even realize this but I just found out that Bobby Canavale was supposed to be playing Van Pelt, the bad guy played by Jonathan Hyde in the real first Jumanji with Robin Williams. That’s how unremarkable Canavale role was and how underdeveloped that character was written. Jonathan Hyde mainly knocked it out of the part in the one with Robin Williams is because the villain was a mirror image of what Alan Shepard thought about his father, which made the Van Pelt frightening and scary. Welcome To The Jungle’s Van Pelt was just a one dimensional plot point only there to advance our four main leads story. In this film the villain is named (goes to check IMDB because the villain is so unremarkable again I didn’t even know his name) Jurgen The Brutal, and he has even less screen time than Van Pelt did. The villain is played by Rory McCann, who played ‘The Hound’ in Game of Thrones, and it looked like he finished filming for that series and just walked onto the set of this one, sans the scar. Really unremarkable. I really wish for the third one that they can write someone memorable, and not just something to serve as a plot device.

Sorry if I sounded harsh just then but I wanted to get the things that bothered me out of the way, as I really did enjoy the film almost as much as this one, and again, it is because of the chemistry of all the characters that get more than 10 minutes of screen time. The story with this one is that all the kids from the last one are now coming home from college for winter break. We find out that they are all still pretty close friends, except for Spencer, who isn’t Martha’s boyfriend anymore, and has had a hard time in New York. He wants to feel how he felt after the first adventure, and in his mind the only way to do that is to go back into Jumanji and be Dr. Bravestone again. The friends stop by his house because he misses a morning brunch get together with them, and they find out that he got the game back after they thought they destroyed it at the end of the last film, and that he put it back together and is already inside the game. They decide to go in and get them, but when they do, not everything is the same as last time: while Martha still goes into Karen Gillan’s avatar, Bethany doesn’t get sucked into the game at all, Fridge is now Jack Black’s character, and Spencer’s grandfather and his old friend, played by Danny Devito and Danny Glover respectively, get sucked in from the kitchen and end up being Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart’s avatar.

Thankfully this body/personality switching gimmick for the sequel works, because if it didn’t, I think the whole movie would’ve fallen apart. Instead of Jack Black stealing the show out from everyone in this (he still has great moments of course), everybody gets a chance for more screen time, including Karen Gillan, who I think becomes a better actress with each and every film that she does. And while Dwayne Johnson is still as good as always, the one who surprisingly steals the show this time is Kevin Hart, because with Danny Glover’s character’s personality inside him this time, he isn’t just playing himself, annoyingly screaming and yelling every minute. He talks slow and off topic like old people do sometimes, and the combination is hilarious, capturing Glover’s mannerisms perfectly. You’ve seen from the trailers that there is sort of a body/avatar switching gimmick in the game, but thankfully it is used only sparingly, and it makes sense for it to be there with what is going on and the character’s plight/mission. The main new addition in this is Awkwafina, whose role I will not spoil. Needless to say, she expands her acting chops…for most of the movie at least, and isn’t just playing herself. You’ll see what I mean. But if Awkwafina usually isn’t your cup of tea, you might at one points start rolling your eyes again, as she gets goofy because of the avatar switching gimmick I mentioned earlier.

But yes, I still really liked this film, and looking at some critics reviews, I think they are being too harsh. Yes, I do realize that this is just more of the same, and usually more of the same just doesn’t work anymore. But I thought there was enough different twists, themes, and surprises to make itself stand out, and the fact that everyone plays someone different at some point in time in the movie made it not only entertaining on another level (pun intended), but brought out some new laughs I didn’t know this franchise had in it. This had a cool little grand adventure I really wished that another family film still out in theaters, Frozen II, had ended up having. And like I said, at the very end of the film, the story and right after the credits scene revealed that it might have some ace up its sleeve to have a third (4th) final picture to have everything come full circle. The title, The Next Level, is really quite appropriate, as it is kind of like any next level of the original Super Mario Bros. video game, honestly just more of the same, but a little different and a little harder to make the whole adventure worth it.


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