#REVIEW: “JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL”
Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
After discovering that Spencer (Alex Wolff) still has the broken Jumanji game system and has willingly gotten sucked back in to play, his friends band together to save him. But everything they remember has changed, as the game has added new twists and challenges that are nothing like what they remember.
After Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle blew away my expectations two years ago by being wildly entertaining and ridiculously fun to watch, I knew the follow-up had to raise the ante. And for the most part, Jumanji: The Next Level (the third film in the Series, or fourth if you count 2005’s Zathura: A Space Adventure) does a valiant job in its attempts to one-up its predecessor. Like many a video game sequel, The Next Level goes to new places, adds new characters, expands on the mythology and overcomplicates some of the simplicities. The fact that Director/Co-Writer Jake Kasden was able to bring back the entire Cast of Welcome to the Jungle is celebration enough, but the way he uses them here (alongside newcomers Danny DeVito, Danny Glover and especially Awkwafina) leads to some genuinely hilarious moments that will keep families laughing and smiling endlessly.
And yes, the core Cast of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black are all just as great in their roles as you remember, if not even better.
Kasden also succeeds at widening the scope of the action scenes. They were great in Welcome to the Jungle, but the action here is bigger, badder and substantially more intricate. An early desert chase scene involving dune buggies and stampeding ostriches is thrilling to watch, even with its questionable CGI. A later scene involving a rope bridge puzzle is a breathless wonder and easily one of the best action scenes of the year. Both scenes effectively raise the stakes in The Next Level, and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.
All of this comes at a price however, because despite how enjoyable The Next Level is, it lacks the freshness and inventiveness of its Predecessor. It was a wise decision to make some clever switch-ups and not just replicate the exact same story beats wholesale. But they reuse far too many jokes, rely a bit too much on the “This wasn’t like this last time!” schtick that basically wore itself thin in the Trailer, and only vaguely improve on the depth missing from the last film. The motivations that kickstart the Movie are uneven at best, and the Film has a habit of solving major issues a bit too conveniently. And while they put a better emphasis on the man versus self story elements, chief villain Jurgen the Brutal (Game of Thrones’ Rory McCann) is criminally-underused and underdeveloped. At least they made him threatening – albeit in one of the darkest and most disturbing scenes in a family film in a long time.
Jumanji: The Next Level is a mixed bag. On one hand, it has some great action scenes, some really fun acting from the returning and new Cast members, and is quite a bit of fun to watch. But on the flipside, it falls apart at even the tiniest bit of scrutiny, reuses a few too many elements and lacks the genuine inventiveness of its Predecessor. Fans of that Film will no doubt be entertained with this one, but I was just kind of left hoping for a bit more.
Sony Pictures Canada release JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL on Friday, December 13, 2019.