Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was one of the surprise hits of 2017, and a sequel was practically assured. And now it is here, and with considerably more bravado. The Next Level follows its predecessor’s formula tightly while adding in a few more elements to stop it feeling like a stale repeat. The result is not worth flocking to catch while you can, but is still a fun trip to the wild side.
After Spencer is sucked back into the game, his friends – Bethany, Fridge and Martha – have to return to Jumanji to get him out again. Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) is Martha’s character, same as before, but Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) is no longer Spencer’s avatar. Instead he belongs to Eddie (Danny DeVito) – Spencer’s bitter and aging grandfather. Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart) is now the avatar for Milo Walker (Danny Glover), Eddie’s eccentric friend. Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black) now belongs to Fridge, and he never stops complaining about it. Together they have to overcome the odds to find Spencer and break out of the game.
There are obvious comparisons with Welcome to the Jungle. Johnson and Hart are controlled by two friends with axes to grind, the villain is completely unaware that this is all a video game, and there are references to the overtly typified kinds of characters typically found in gaming lore. Except this time it is combined with an affecting arc regarding aging, change and wanting to be anyone except yourself (or not) that hits the feel-good blockbuster sweet spot very well.
Johnson and Hart are at the heart of this success, channelling embittered old men to hilarious effect. It comes to Hart more naturally than it does to The Rock, but the pair together are by now an established double act. Gillan commands affairs as the de facto leader of the group, and Jack Black has really nailed playing Jack Black. The standout though is Awkwafina as new avatar Ming. In the third act especially, she brilliantly embodies the attitudes and mannerisms of other characters and gets some of the best moments. The sequel is just as heavy on the humour as Welcome to the Jungle, shining through as a crude but easy to enjoy comedy adventure tale.
Blissfully, it has also left the awful robotic dialogue of the real world behind, the characters now not having to make do with bland lines and cliches. It is the in-game world that perhaps needs some touching up. It’s a bit like a jungle – loud, colourful, but all over the place There is a whole new dimension between the friends to explore, not to mention a whole side of the game not previously explored, but too much time is focussed on the dithery old men. The CGI is also as big a letdown as a flightless bird. Ostriches just don’t look like that.
The plot seriously needs more focus, but this is still a level up from Welcome to the Jungle and again makes the right call in letting the cast do the hard work. Sony are definitely on to a winner, and the ending of The Next Level makes it very clear that the world of Jumanji is not consigned to history just yet.
Jumanji: The Next Level is out now