Like pretty much everyone else, when I first heard that the Robin Williams 1985 classic Jumanji was getting some kind of reboot/remake starring Dwayne Johnson, I was hugely sceptical. I probably even rolled my eyes and raised an eyebrow or something in disappointed disbelief! But then, also like pretty much everyone else judging by the fact it went on to make almost a billion dollars, I was more than pleasantly surprised when Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle turned out to be a big hit – an enjoyable, fresh take on the Jumanji idea, while still remaining true to the original. But, big box office numbers usually mean that a sequel won’t be too far off and, sure enough, Jumanji: The Next Level was announced, with the original cast all returning. Hopefully they weren’t going to end up stretching the formula too thin and had managed to come up with another new and exciting adventure to entice us back into the world of Jumanji.
Our four teens from Welcome to the Jungle are all still great friends following their ordeal/adventure together, although Spencer has become more distant from the group over the last year, seeming rather unhappy and depressed with life. As the rest of the group excitedly exchange messages on Whatsapp in preparation to return home for a Christmas reunion, Spencer is getting yelled at by his boss before struggling with a broken suitcase in the pouring rain as he heads to catch the bus home. When he does make it home, his Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) is staying with them while he recovers from a hip operation, and Spencer now has the pleasure of sharing his bedroom with him. Complaining about old age, Eddie is the kind of grumpy character that Danny DeVito plays so perfectly and we are also introduced soon after to an old friend of his, Milo (Danny Glover). Eddie and Milo are former partners in the restaurant business, but haven’t been on the best of terms over the last 15 years since they sold the restaurant and parted on not the best of terms.
When Spencer suddenly goes missing and his three friends go looking for him, they discover the battered Jumanji video game down in his basement, with Spencer’s mobile phone and coat laying nearby. They realise that Spencer has ventured back into Jumanji and decide that they must join him in order to increase his chances of getting out of there alive. But this time round, it’s not just the teens who get pulled into the game, as Eddie and Milo also find themselves inside Jumanji. And, just to mix things up a bit from the last movie, not everyone winds up in the same avatar as they did before either. So, similar to what we got last time, we’re treated to plenty of comedy moments while everyone becomes accustomed to their new body and is either disgusted or overjoyed with what they’ve got. Grandpa Eddie finds himself as Dr. Bravestone while Milo is Franklin ‘Mouse’ Finbar, so obviously now having a fully functional, new and improved body is a pretty big deal for the old timers. Seeing Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart act out their very best impersonations of DeVito and Glover is a lot of fun and straight away serves up a completely different dynamic to that of the first movie. On top of that, there are some differences in the skills and weaknesses that each avatar now possesses and the introduction throughout the movie of a few more avatars in order to cater for the additional players who are now in the game.
When it comes to the quest that the team must embark upon in order to beat the game, this doesn’t seem quite as well fleshed out or developed as in Welcome to the Jungle, and it’s where this movie is lacking. The villain isn’t at all interesting, and neither is the journey they take in order to get there. There are a couple of big fun action scenes, but also a lot of filler scenes that are somewhat lacking. It’s still that winning formula from the previous movie, but with something missing.
As before though, it’s the characters that shine through and make this all the more enjoyable. Probably the biggest addition this time round is Awkwafina as Ming Fleetfoot, who proves to be just as entertaining as the rest of the avatars. And, just to keep us on our toes, there are a couple of times where a dip in some magical water causes the players to switch avatars, meaning the cast get a chance to act in a different way as they get to grips with a new body and skills again.
Overall, Jumanji: The Next Level felt like more of the same, only not quite as good as Welcome to the Jungle. Obviously, there’s a teaser or two of a sequel at the end of the movie and I’m sure the characters telling each other that they’ll “never go back again” won’t be enough to stop that from happening should this movie do as well as the last one!