The Jumanji movie series is an interesting one to say the least, with the classic Robin Williams comedy releasing in 1995 and the very different sequel/reboot with Dwayne Johnson releasing in 2017. The classic film features elements of a board game coming to life, with the only way to restore things back to normal being to finish the game. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle remains in the same canon by having the game cleverly transform itself into a video game to make sure it is played by a new cast of characters who become stuck in its world. The recent Jumanji: the Next Level is a direct sequel to Welcome to the Jungle and keeps the same video game themes. Does this new installment keep the franchise as fresh? Let’s explore to find out.
Jumanji: the Next Level contains some of the most humorous scenes in the series. Whether it’s banter between characters, over the top slapstick, or unexpected reactions to otherwise serious events, the laughs don’t stop coming with this adventure. The movie also plays with the expectations of those who saw Welcome to the Jungle, adding an extra element of humor when they change up some elements seen in the previous film.
One of the biggest draws of the film is the idea of actors playing each other. Welcome to the Jungle had the likes of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan playing some fresh faces to the acting world who may be unlike themselves, like Johnson playing an awkward high school student or Jack Black playing a preppy teen girl. The Next Level one-ups the previous film with having Johnson play Danny Devito and Hart play Danny Glover. Johnson doing his best Devito impression for most of a movie is worth the price of admission alone.
It adds more humor to the film while also showing off their outstanding acting talent. The cast’s acting chops are further showcased by switching up the type of character they are playing during the movie. This was a ton of fun to experience, as movies typically aren’t bold enough to attempt something like this, or don’t do it successfully if they do try it. The always-amusing Awkwafina joins the cast this time, also getting the chance to play multiple characters and give her own perfect portrayal of Devito.
One of the main elements that cause both Welcome to the Jungle and The Next Level to excel is how well-written the characters’ story arcs are. We see very opposite characters gain a close and long-lasting bond, along with old friends rekindling their relationship with each other. It helps the characters feel relatable while also allowing great chemistry to be shown between actors.
The video game’s rules are re-established nicely without feeling tedious or too boring. It’s helpful to have this sort of reminder in sequels, but they can feel out of place at times. Here, it feels organic and they actually make it rather entertaining.
This is an action movie, and it absolutely delivers on the action. Whether Dr. Bravestone and the rest are jumping across decrepit rope bridges while being chased by mandrills, driving dune buggies over valleys, or fighting off countless mercenaries, it’s always a blast to experience. Even though the characters each have multiple lives, the danger still feels very real for them as they remind us that they will die for good if their lives do run out. The environment changes up much more than the previous film, from a dessert, to a town, to a jungle, and even to a snowy mountain top. Each type of environment plays a big part in the action and in the story, all of it being cleverly used.
This isn’t the type of movie where I’d expect genuine heartfelt moments, but it certainly has its fair share of them. Seeing former friends reconnect, family members bond, or ex romantic partners get back together is enough to make one feel emotional. Some of these moments are pretty shocking. I never thought I would tear up over Awkwafina playing an old Italian man while talking to a flying horse, but here we are. None of these emotional moments feel out of place or distract from the story or action.
The video game that Jumanji becomes does not operate entirely like a video game. You can tell that the filmmakers made an attempt to match how a video game would play, but definitely missed the mark. A video game with multiple playable characters should be beatable with any character the player chooses, but here there are a couple characters that are borderline useless on their own. Dr. Bravestone, Ruby Roundhouse, or Ming Fleetfoot might have a chance at completing the full game on their own, but it doesn’t seem likely. Professor Oberon and Mouse Finbar definitely couldn’t. The game requires you to have between five and seven players to complete it. The game also only has about three or four levels, making it extremely short. I get that it’s only a two hour movie, but they could have multiple levels using a montage or shortening the screen time each level gets. Having each character have different stats makes sense, but their weaknesses don’t. Video games often have characters that are weaker to fire damage or poison, not cake or exercise. The original Jumanji had the game operate like a board game pretty well, but they can’t seem to match the rules of a video game.
The villain in Jumanji: the Next Level is extremely under-developed. He is essentially just a plot device so the heroes have something to fight and is barely a character. He’s ultimately forgettable. Spencer is able to find the villain’s weakness, but he shouldn’t even need to considering how little screen time he gets before being defeated.
The reason why Spencer re-enters Jumanji is a little weak. He misses feeling strong or important, so he puts himself and his friends in danger of getting killed by ostriches? I feel there were probably better things he could have done to feel important than to risk his life and the lives of those he cares about. I get it was just a way for them to get back into Jumanji, but it feels rather forced.
Jumanji: the Next Level does not have the same kinds of references to the original Jumanji that the previous film had (unfortunately), but it does have some moments that are clearly inspired by it. For instance, there is a space a couple of the characters stand on that contains a riddle on it, similar to the board game spaces from the original. There are also animal statues seen throughout that somewhat resemble the game pieces that were used in the board game.
The ending sets up something that could potentially lead to interesting story in another sequel. We see animals from the game set free in the real world. The last time we saw this happen was in the original movie with Robin Williams. They treat it like a brief comedic moment to end on, but this could lead to an interesting sequel. Sure, we’ve seen the game’s elements and villain released into the real world before, but not with these characters. These characters are now experts in dealing with the world of Jumanji while inside of it, but it would be a fun challenge to see them deal with it as themselves rather than their character avatars. Because these modern elements are exiting the game, it could also be fun to see Spencer, Bethany, and their friends get to meet and interact with Dr. Bravestone and the other playable characters. This could make for a fun sequel to keep the series from feeling like more of the same if they continue to go forward with it.
The filmmakers behind Jumanji: the Next Level clearly know that they can’t recapture what the original Jumanji did, so they play it smart by doing their own thing that still works within the canon. It’s ultimately a fun, goofy action-comedy with some unique and original ideas thrown in. It’s nothing too outstanding, but it’s definitely an enjoyable and relaxing movie to watch. I’m excited to see where they take the series next.