Back in 2017 one of the unexpected hits of the year on the big screen was Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart and Jack Black the reboot marveled with its effective gags and surprisingly strong character development. That movie was directed by Jake Kasdan, son of Lawrence Kasdan, and grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide. That Sony and Columbia Pictures would produce a sequel was a foregone conclusion. What wasn’t is its quality. The 2017 reboot to the 1995 film starring Robin Williams threaded the needle, most people expected the third movie in the franchise: Jumanji: The Next Level, to fail. It doesn’t – it is just as good, but also too similar.
Yesterday I watched the movie at the cinema, the official release date for the US is December 13th. The movie makes does not attempt to hide the fact it is a sequel. In fact there are plenty of gags that revolve around this. The four ‘heroes’ from the previous movie: Fridge, Martha, Bethany and Spencer are planning a get-together just before Christmas. Though Spencer did not officially reply. Before Halloween he broke up with Martha. He is again beginning to have doubts about himself. Whereas the others have taken strength from their first Jumanji experience it has worn off for Spencer.
From Tomb Raider to Wicked Games
After travelling back home from New York and college he is confronted with the fact that he has to put up with his grandfather Eddie being his bunk buddy. As the morning of the get-together approaches Spencer decides playing Jumanji again. He picked up the broken pieces at the end of the last movie. After Fridge, Bethany and Martha figure out what he has done they decide to play the game to rescue him. Unexpectedly Eddie and his estranged friend Milo (Danny Glover) also end up being sucked in.
Here the situation deviates from the original movie. It is Eddie who plays as the Dr. Bravestone avatar and Milo who becomes ‘Mouse’ Finbar. Neither have the slightest understanding they are playing a game and instead think they are dead. Meanwhile Fridge plays Professor Sheldon, much to his annoyance, as he now plays a character whose weaknesses include sun and heat. While the game starts in the middle of the Jungle. Martha again plays as Ruby Roundhouse – the Tomb Raider inspired red-head played by Karen Gillan.
Mixed up avatars
The objective of the game remains similar as to the previous installment. From Nigel they get instructions that they need to find a sacred stone while Jumanji is being overrun by the warlord Jurgen (played by Rory McCann). However, things are different. Bethany has not entered the game. She won’t until later with the help of Alex Vreeke (Colin Hanks).
While it is fun to watch how the characters are again mixed up with their avatars the consequences are not as strong as with Welcome to the Jingle. Except for Eddie (Danny DeVito) in the Dr. Bravestone avatar (Dwayne Johnson) nobody is really out of their element. There is no gag like in the previous movie in which Bethany needs to convince Martha (in the Ruby avatar) how to use her feminine assets.
Spencer playing a female ninja assassin and Bethany a horse are the only two major deviations from the formula. Half-way through the movie the characters figure out certain kinds of water allows them to switch characters. Each does so until they are back in their 2017 configuration: with Eddie and Milo playing the ninja assassin and the horse respectively Briefly Fridge plays as Ruby which leads to a funny scene in which he explores her feminine side as well as her ability to do flying kicks.
The old and the new of Jumanji: The Next Level
Despite the avatars being mixed up and the many similarities to the 2017 adaptation there are things done differently. Director Jake Kasdan makes ample use of songs from popular culture to set the mood. The first time is when the characters find a town and attempt to uncover a clue in a local bar. When Eddie spots a mysterious woman in a red cocktail dress the song Wicked Games by Chris Isaak starts to play. The action scenes are remain intense, even if their grander scale sometimes sucks you out of the action.
throughout the movie Spencer has to make amends to his friends. He admits that since going to college he has been feeling down. Oddly enough playing the avatar Ming (Awkwafina) – female ninja safe-cracker – allows him to understand that playing as Dr. Bravestone would not have helped him. It is in fact Eddie and Mio who have a hard time settling their differences. Milo decided to visit Eddie on the fateful day Spencer reactivated Jumanji after being estranged for 15 years. Their estrangement causes the avatars to quickly lose their remaining lives. They manage to resolve their dispute, with Milo deciding to remain inside Jumanji as his real-life body is dying of illness.
The final act of Jumanji: The Next Level
Sadly, the movie does slow down in the final act. The characters reach Jurgen’s castle and after many fights and even more gags they manage to defeat the bad guy. Jumanji here begins to suffer from its extended cast. As the action scenes switch between characters the pacing becomes erratic. The final fight scene in which Eddie confronts Jurgen in a Zeppelin just feels tonally overdone.
However, the movie does recover after the characters leave the game. Fridge, Bethany, Martha and Spencer decide to remain friends with the latter two becoming an item again. Eddie visits the restaurant that caused him and Milo to become estranged. It is called Nora’s now. In a worthwhile cameo Bebe Neuwirth is introduced as Nora, the character from the 1995 movie. Her business is struggling and she asks Eddie for help – to which Eddie responds with his Dr. Bravestone smoldering look. Meanwhile at Spencer’s home the plumber sent to fix the heating takes an interest in the broken Jumanji game console.
I do have mixed feelings regarding Jumanji: The Next Level. While I stated I previously I thought it was as good as the 2017 reboot I kind of lied. It is nearly as good, sadly the final act of the movie is distinctly weaker. The plot becomes repetitive and the character development stale as that has been settled near the beginning of said act. What is left are the action scenes and the gags. Most notably Karen Gillan kicking ass to the tune “Baby I Love Your Way“.
In fact each of the principal actors: Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson reprise their role with the same skill as the 2017 movie. The same I feel for Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain and Morgan turner. For that Jumanji: The Next Level is enough reason to watch, and I do recommend this movie.
Somehow I had wished for Jumanji: The Next Level to be more. The 2017 movie was solid because it was conventional. And so is this sequel. For a fourth movie – third in the rebooted franchise – to be worthwhile things need to change.