When a beloved film from the 1990’s becomes a series of films nearly 20 years later, there are many reasons for fans to be both excited and slightly concerned. 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle wasn’t a total sell, despite a great cast of actors but the heavy reliance on special effects and story direction didn’t settle well past the fun had in the theater. Two years later, we have the sequel (to the sequel) called Jumanji: The Next Level which surprisingly improves on the former.
With the same cast and director Jake Kasdan back together, this new film takes the original idea of being trapped in a video game and adds more substance and humor to it in the form of new characters, role reversals, and entertaining action sequences. In the first film a group of teenagers are forced to become friends fast as they are sucked into an old video game and must work together to survive and complete the objective. This time around the game is malfunctioning and the friends are drifting apart, until Spencer’s grandfather (played beautifully by Danny DeVito) and his old business partner (Danny Glover) are accidentally sucked into the game with half the friends.
With the two older men not comprehending the fact that they’re in a video game and need to play it to survive, the others begin to realize that the rules of the game have changed and the objective is not as cut and dry as it was last time around. The mission this time is to not only locate Spencer who snuck into the game on his own after lying to his friends about destroying the game at the end of the last film, and retrieving an ancient relic from the evil Jurgen the Brutal (played by Rory McCann a.k.a. The Hound from Game of Thrones). So, with two brand new (and basically unwilling) players and two veterans of the game, the group sets off on a wild and exciting adventure which eventually reunites all the friends and allies within the game.
The core group of actors, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan, are all considerably more entertaining and have better chemistry than they did in the last film. In the first film, they primarily play over exaggerated versions of their personalities. This time all four actors are given very different personas and are put into very different circumstances. The Rock doing his best DeVito impression and Kevin Hart channeling the essence of Danny Glover in his prime were consistently hilarious and had me laughing the whole time. Even Jack Black is forced to change his character (and he’s got some of the best one liners throughout the film).
This sequel really found its footing in the story with a significant amount of depth as it deals with friends drifting apart, fear of isolation and the strength of the bonds of your youth. This was a welcome change to all of the mindless action and bland comedy from the first film and creates a feeling of growth for the characters. With each challenge there was a character with a specific ability that needed to be learned and used to guide the group through each map.
Jumanji: The Next Level is a fun and entertaining ride for video game fans and adventure movie fans alike. Although it’s still not the original Jumanji, this sequel was able to make some much needed adjustments to the plot and characters and make a movie that was enjoyable to watch and showed off the range of some of the best actors in Hollywood today.