After launching a successful reboot of the long-dormant franchise only two short years ago, Sony is taking audiences back to the Jumanji universe for another adventure.
Last we saw the Jumanji b̶o̶a̶r̶d̶ video game in 2017’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” it was dealt a destructive blow by a bowling ball that would surely end the life of any normal gaming console. Seeing as the last film made nearly a billion dollars, however, it should be assumed that this is no ordinary gaming console, and so, we have “Jumanji: The Next Level.”
Having formed a new group of friends in detention last year, Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Bethany (Madison Iseman) and Martha (Morgan Turner) all plan to meet up for the first time since graduating high school, but Spencer is noticeably slow to respond to the group chat and missing in action when the group’s rendezvous time arrives. And thus, we have conflict.
The returning real-life cast is joined this time by Spencer’s confidently cantankerous Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his estranged friend, Milo (Danny Glover). Grandpa Eddie originally inhabits the avatar of The Rock’s Dr. Smolder Bravestone while Milo becomes Kevin Hart’s cake-fearing zoologist character. Fridge, who was the zoologist in the 2017 film, is disappointed to become Jack Black’s navigator this time around while Martha becomes Ruby “Killer of Men” Roundhouse once more. Additionally, Awkwafina joins the group as a new game avatar named Ming Fleetfoot, an expert cat burglar.
While the fourth film in the franchise occasionally struggles to justify it’s own existence (why would anyone legitimately want to go back into a video game that could kill you?), the sheer fun of it all makes it hard to not enjoy a somewhat-repetitive path down memory lane. What it lacks in an unsurprising and formulaic plot, it makes up for with a lot of cleverly written humor and hilariously delivered performances.
The addition of the new senior characters gives the film an excuse to continually explain the rules of the game so new audience members won’t be lost, but also creates some of the funniest moments of the film as Jumanji’s newest inhabitants struggle to understand the details of their predicament. Undeniably, the “I’m old and don’t know anything” jokes grow tiresome after a bit, but the older characters eventually get more interesting later in the film, in an equal parts absurd and heartfelt manner that audiences will see coming a mile away, but enjoy nonetheless.
The best parts of the film come from the pure joy of watching the stars imitate the most basic characteristics of their co-stars. Kevin Hart is clearly having the most enjoyable time of any cast member in conjuring up his best impersonation of Danny Glover, while Awkwafina shines in her imitations of Spencer and Grandpa Eddie. The Rock and Jack Black are less successful in their attempts, but worthy of laughs nonetheless.
Brandon’s Verdict: If you liked “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” you will probably enjoy its newer and shinier sibling. If you’re new to the franchise, but want an enjoyable popcorn movie, it’s also a good bet that you’ll like this film. Don’t expect to find much new ground broken here, but sit back and have a laugh anyway. The Jumanji franchise is here to stay.
Want to check out the film for yourself? “Jumanji: The Next Level” will be released in theaters on Friday, Dec. 13.