The continuing world of Jumanji takes risks, but plays them too safe.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” was an enormous hit for Dwayne Johnson during the 2017 holiday movie season, grossing over $900 million worldwide. As a continuation of the 1995 Robin Williams hit, I liked it for transcending from a board game to a video game, as well as giving Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan charming roles as kids trapped inside celebrity bodies.
Because it was a hit, we now have “The Next Level,” which takes some risks, but somehow, plays them a bit too safe. It ends up being more dull than exciting, as we anticipate the outcome as well as the comedy material and dangers that lurk inside the video game world.
As a way of trying to reconnect with his friends-Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Martha (Morgan Turner), and Bethany (Madison Iseman)-the story now finds Spencer (Alex Wolf) fixing the “Jumanji” game they destroyed in the first movie. He ends up inside, along with Martha, Fridge, Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito), and his estranged ex-business partner Milo (Danny Glover), while Bethany is still in the real world, recruiting Alex (Colin Hanks), the guy who went missing in 1996, for help.
The avatar rules have changed, since they didn’t even get to pick their characters. Martha is still Karen Gillan, while Fridge is now Jack Black, Eddie is Dwayne Johnson, Milo is Kevin Hart, and Spencer is Awkwafina. Eventually, Alex returns as Nick Jonas, while Bethany becomes a horse.
Their new level requires them to steal a sacred jewel from the new villain (Rory McCann from “Game of Thrones”). And the challenges, this time, feature ostriches, mandrills, and magic water, which allows the characters to switch avatars.
Now those elements are more interesting than the antagonist, who doesn’t do anything but use NPC (Non-Player Character) dialogue, and battles Johnson in a blimp. He’s probably the biggest glitch of the movie.
The first half hour inside the video game world was funny, like when Hart acts like Milo and Black acts like Fridge. And it did tickle me when the Eddie avatar loses his first life (three lives), and thinks he’s talking to a nurse, who is actually Martha’s avatar.
But it gets annoying when the two old folks don’t pay attention to Martha and Fridge, when they explain about their video game mission over and over. I acknowledge about different generations, but here, they’re just handled so obvious. And eventually, the action becomes weaker and specific moments are copied and recycled.
The ending of “Jumanji: The Next Level” is a bit touching, and I did smile at Bebe Neuwirth reprising her role as Nora Sheppard, but I basically already knew the outcome. If it wanted to be a thrill-seeking sequel, it should have done more or less with the characters, action, gags, and cliches. Despite some of its new features, it should have provided elements we never would have guessed in the world of “Jumanji.”
This is the part where I start to consider my overall opinion of the film. It has its comical, adventurous, and tender moments, but it ends up boring and predictable. I don’t know how the movie will fare at the box office, given its releases of “Frozen 2” and “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” but it it is a major hit, I don’t recommend they make a third movie, unless the filmmakers (writer/director Jake Kasdan and co-writers Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg) learn from their mistakes.
One life left for each player, and the excitement is basically over.