It’s hard to believe that a sequel to Jumanji made over $950 million dollars just two years ago. With likable stars attached, including Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan, and a new concept that worked, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle became a box office smash. With word of mouth that helped keep its legs at the box office through the holidays, it was inevitable that a sequel would be fast-tracked. Like a video game sequel (which is what Jumanji is nowadays), Jumanji: The Next Level is here with a concept of being bigger in terms of scope and characters – just like most sequels to video games. Does it work as another entertaining action adventure? Yes, it does. But does it reach or surpass the score level of its predecessor? Not exactly, but that’s fine.
The Next Level’s story is the same as its predecessor’s, with two changes. First, the level people get sucked into is more difficult than the last one. And second, instead of the same cast of characters in the real world being sucked into the game with the same characters they embodied in Welcome to the Jungle, people are swapped around, thanks to the additions to the cast. For the most part, it works, but you can certainly feel the “sequel-itis” here by movie’s end, as the story has the same tempo and action beats. However, it still makes for an entertaining time, thanks to the entire cast. While the story is what you would expect, the introduction to a new character that turns out to be a horse is a surprising addition that helps drive the movie home in the third act.
From top to bottom, the returning cast is as good as expected, especially Martha embodying Gillan’s Ruby Roundhouse once again thanks to a script that benefits her character as the glue that keeps everything together. However, the additions of veteran actors Danny DeVito and Danny Glover, along with Awkwafina in The Next Level, switch things around and keep things fresh. As a result, DeVito embodies Johnson’s Dr. Smolder Bravestone and Glover embodies Hart’s Franklin Finbar. The interactions between DeVito and Glover’s characters, with younger and more athletic bodies, provides some of the movie’s best and funniest moments, while Awkwafina brings a great dynamic to the story’s new level that keep the adventure from feeling stale. These additional cast members with new abilities, who are unaware of their character capabilities in the game, help keep The Next Level from feeling entirely recyclable, though the familiarity lingers on throughout the movie’s runtime. But still, that makes for an enjoyable time at the movie, even if it does not bring anything new to the table (or disk slot since this is a video game).
With Jumanji: The Next Level, you certainly know what you’re getting. It may not reach the same level as its predecessor, but the new cast brings new things to the table, both in terms of action and humor. If you’re in the mood to see something mindless over the holidays that features familiar faces in Hollywood, some decent action, and good humor, then The Next Level is right up your alley. So, boot up the game and take the two-hour adventure.
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