With a slower pace and more laughs, ‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ is an improvement.
Kernel Rating: 3.5 out of 5
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 123 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 12+. ‘The Next Level’ contains a lot of similar material as the first reboot film, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’: The video game can be quite violent and the possibility of dying in real life is taken seriously; we see characters attacked or eaten by animals, fall from great heights, engage in hand-to-hand combat and fighting, and killed by poison darts. A character’s parents are killed in the video game; in real life, a character is diagnosed with a terminal illness. A few characters are dating or are attracted to each other, with some kissing; jokes about a character who is revealed to be a eunuch; and some other sexually themed humor. A fair amount of cursing and some insults; characters discuss the avatar bodies they inhabit in the video game, with a male character talking about being excited to inhabit a female character and touch her body.
By Roxana Hadadi
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” was a frantically paced reboot of a ‘90s film that lost some of the spirit of the original with its seemingly endless jokes about sex, male physicality, and teen drama. Its sequel, “The Next Level,” is an improvement, with a slower pace, an expanded cast, and thoughtful questions about the transition from adolescence to young adulthood and adulthood to retirement. Still quite funny and action-packed, “The Next Level” is a more enjoyable return to this world than its predecessor.
“The Next Level” picks up two or so years after “Welcome to the Jungle” ended. Unlikely friends after surviving being sucked into the Jumanji video game, Spencer (Alex Wolff), Martha (Morgan Turner), Bethany (Madison Iseman), and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) have all gone their separate ways to college. During holiday break, they return to their hometown, but the happy reunion of Martha, Bethany, and Fridge is negatively affected by Spencer’s absence. His first year at New York University is not exactly going as planned, he’s on a relationship break with Martha, and the self-confidence he developed while leading the others in Jumanji is all but gone.
And when Spencer fails to show up at brunch, Martha, Bethany, and Fridge all visit his home to realize that he put the broken Jumanji video game back together—and began playing it on his own. To save him, the friends decide to visit the game again, but because of glitches with the once-broken game, only Martha and Fridge are transported, plus Spencer’s grumpy Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and Eddie’s former friend and business partner Milo (Danny Glover). Once they’re transported into the game, Eddie ends up with ripped Dr. Bravestone avatar (Dwayne Johnson), Milo becomes zoologist Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha returns to the man-killing Ruby Roundhouse avatar (Karen Gillan), and Fridge is surprised to find himself as cartographer Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black).
Although the group’s initial objective is to find Spencer, the game gives them another task: to retrieve the powerful Falcon’s Heart necklace from the conqueror who stole it so that the health of Jumanji can be restored. How the new group functions together in these different avatars is contrasted with Bethany’s desperation while locked outside of the game, and the movie falls into a predictable but often amusing pattern, with Johnson doing a DeVito impression, Hart doing a Glover impression, and Black humorously portraying Fridge’s football player frustrated by being stuck in a smaller, rounder body.
As always, the movie gets a lot of leverage out of characters being amazed by their avatars, and Hart in particular is a standout here as he channels Glover’s slow-talking spin on Milo. The movie eases away from making Hart the manic presence he was in the preceding film, and that change works. In addition, the movie gives thoughtful takes on two different periods of life: the transition from high school to college, and how alienating that can be, and the transition from full-time work to full-time retirement, and how lonely that can be. Incorporating two older characters allows the film to investigate other directions than just high school clique drama, and it makes “The Next Level” feel like a more balanced film.
The action scenes are also surprisingly, thrillingly intense this time around, in particular a sequence on a revolving array of staircases while the group is chased by mandrills. “Jumanji: The Next Level” still doesn’t capture the charm of the Robin Williams original, but it’s far more enjoyable than its predecessor and goes a long way in entertainment value alone.
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