Thursday, December 12, 2019

Jumanji: The Next Level - Review

At least the creatives behind the newest entry in the Jumanji franchise have the self-awareness to reference the repetitive nature of their world with the sequel’s title. And while that general self-awareness transfers to the film in some regard, it still doesn’t save the film from being largely the second film, just on a grander, bizarre scale. Fortunately, the cast and crew have a blast with this premise that it translates to the big screen and saves what could’ve been a busted game.

When Spencer (Alex Wolff) goes back into the fantastical world of Jumanji, pals Martha (Morgan Turner), Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) re-enter the game to bring him home. But everything about Jumanji is about to change, as they soon discover more obstacles and more danger to overcome.

It’s a tale as old as time, the sequel rehashing the previous film but with a minor twist and a bigger budget. Jumanji: The Next Level is no different. While it thankfully doesn’t take long to get to the mayhem of the adventure-based video game world, it becomes instantly clear that the same structure is going to apply here. Characters get thrown into a video game setting, learn about the goals to win, survive various attacks from animals, and make it the final level with little chance of winning. Just throw in DannyDeVito and Danny Glover as some of the avatars this time, and boom, you’ve got a sequel.
And it isn’t as if this is inherently a bad thing. No one was looking at the Jumanji franchise as high art, just a fun, adventurous blockbuster for the whole family, and the film knows that, for the most part. The return of the principle cast is important, but what they allow them to do for most of the movie is better. This time Dwayne Johnson serves as the avatar for Danny DeVito and Kevin Hart is the stand in for Danny Glover. It’s a classic fish out of water, misunderstanding setup, but man does it work for some comedic gold. Who knew that all Kevin Hart needed was to embody Danny Glover to be funny.

Outside of the humor and performances, Jumanji: The Next Level is at least visually appealing. It trades out the jungle setting for some desert and arctic levels, and with it provides new opportunities for enjoyable action set pieces. Sure, 50% of them revolve around a chase of some kind from various animals, but they still provide entertainment, and again what more can you really ask for.

Jumanji: The Next Level provides mindless, simple fun at the movies and in a time of awards prestige pictures about history or family drama, a little fun goes a long way. It does stumble from taking a lot from the previous film, but the cast and their chemistry allow it to go largely ignored. There are so many opportunities for another film if they want, and it’ll likely be more of the same stupid, ridiculous fun that the others have been.

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