Two years ago, Sony rebooted Jumanji, originally a 1995 Robin Williams adventure based on the 1981 children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black, it mixed a lot of comedy in with the action. It was fun, with the lead actors playing entertaining spins on their individual screen personas. It also made a lot of money. So, of course, we get Jumanji: The Next Level, the sequel to a reboot of an adaptation.
I did not anticipate much originality from a product fitting that description and I got very little. They twist some of the personas in a new direction this time; otherwise, it is essentially the same movie as its direct predecessor. It is not as funny or exciting, though the premise still holds enough charm to keep things watchable. It is an intermittently enjoyable diversion, even if it never makes itself feel necessary as a story continuation.
The teenagers who became best friends after being sucked into a videogame are now in different parts of the world. Spencer, Fridge, Martha and Bethany remain close, but Spencer is really feeling the distance. When he skips their reunion brunch, the rest of the gang goes looking for him. They discover he has gone back into Jumanji. They follow him in, braving more dangerous obstacles as they attempt to find their friend.
Last time, nerdy Spencer turned into super heroic Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), macho jock Fridge turned into his diminutive sidekick, Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), vain Bethany turned into the intellectual, and male, Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), and shy Martha turned into acrobatic butt-kicker Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). The mismatched team were all transformed into their opposites, forcing them to accept their differences and work together to survive. Since that stuff was resolved already, the only move the filmmakers had was to throw them into new bodies and do it all over. Some of the gags are funny for a bit, but what little weight the first one had is entirely missing from a story that lacks a point for putting its characters through their paces again.
Spencer and Bethany are absent for a large section, so I will leave it to the movie to reveal their videogame avatars to you. Martha is still Ruby, now with additional fighting skill. Fridge, however, is forced to be Shelly, someone without any of the physical abilities he has in real life. Unexpectedly, they are joined in the game by Spencer’s Grandpa Eddie, played with his trademark abrasive grumpiness by Danny DeVito, and Eddie’s old friend Milo, played with annoying friendliness by Danny Glover. They are Smolder and Mouse. It you think the idea of Dwayne Johnson talking like Danny DeVito and Kevin Hart slowing down his usual energy for a Danny Glover impression sounds amusing, well, it is. As is the idea of a young athlete trapped in Jack Black’s body. At least for the first twenty minutes or so. Unfortunately, it then becomes crystal clear The Next Level does not really have anything more to offer than that.
In the first one, the videogame adventure they went on was a backdrop to the personalities and how this experience caused them to grow into better people. Here, the second part does not exist, so it is just the personalities and action sequences. The sole relationship developed by the plot is the one between Eddie and Milo. There is not enough substance to it to fill out the 116 minute runtime (minus the end credits). In its place is a series of dull chase scenes and a whole lot of “old people do not understand what is going on” jokes. I got pretty tired of it after a while, yet the actors carry things along on charm alone.
If you liked visiting Jumanji before, you will probably want to do so again. I will not actively dissuade you from seeing this. It is generally not bad, just uninteresting. The ending teases a third entry. Assuming they go through with it, I sincerely hope they have a few fresh ideas.
2¾ out of 5
Dwayne Johnson as Dr. Smolder Bravestone
Kevin Hart as Mouse Finbar
Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse
Jack Black as Professor Shelly Oberon
Awkwafina as Ming
Alex Wolff as Spencer
Danny DeVito as Eddie
Danny Glover as Milo
Madison Iseman as Bethany
Morgan Turner as Martha
Ser’Darius Blain as Fridge
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Written by Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg