Jumanji: The Next Level.

Posted: January 10, 2020 in Film reviews
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Directed by Jake Kasdan. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Danny Glover and Danny DeVito.

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Several years have passed since Spencer, Fridge, Martha and Bethany became trapped in the Jumanji video game and only just escaped with their lives, and though they’ve all moved on they’ve remained friends, and have arranged to meet up again before Christmas when each of them returns from college or overseas. All are happy, except for Spencer who hasn’t come to terms with no longer being the heroic Dr Bravestone (Johnson) and who yearns to re-enter the game.

When Spencer fails to turn up for brunch his friends go to his home and realise what he’s done. Though fearful they realise they must enter the game to save their friend, and besides, they know how the game works now, so they anticipate no problems.

Unfortunately for them the game has moved on, and they find themselves in another level with which they have no familiarity. Worse is to come when Spencer’s crotchety grandfather Eddie (DeVito) and his estranged best friend Milo (Glover) end up in the game as well. With time running out can they save the world of Jumanji, and more importantly can they save themselves?

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When Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle came out a few years ago it caught everyone by surprise, not least me. What looked like a lame sequel come reboot turned out to be a clever and witty body-swap adventure comedy that was one of the most enjoyable films of recent years. As is always the way, success breeds a sequel, and here we are again, but surely the law of diminishing returns says they can’t pull off the same success twice, right?

Well it turns out they can. Almost. This isn’t quite as enjoyable as Welcome to the Jungle. It lacks the surprise elements for starters, and at times feels a little cluttered as it seeks to not only revisit pretty much every character from the first film, but also introduce several new ones (both in real life and in-game) and as a result some get lost in the crush, in particular Danny Glover’s overly thoughtful Milo. But on the whole, this succeeds wonderfully.

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As with last time the major part of its success is the cast, and the chemistry between Johnson, Black, Gillan and Hart remains effective, even if they’re not all playing quite the same characters. In particular The Rock playing a cranky old man is hilarious, and Eddie and Milo spend a long time not understanding that they’re in a videogame. Black again shows his versatility, this time playing a hulking black football player as well as a selfie obsessed young woman, and of course as Ruby Roundhouse Gillan is wonderful (well I mean she always is, right?) and in many ways Ruby gets to be the leader, at least for part of the film.

It’s always nice to see Dannys DeVito and Glover, but it’s DeVito who gets the pick of the funny lines, and the most screen time. Still there’s a nice banter between them in the real world. Perhaps the best new character is Awkwafina as Ming Fleetfoot, an avatar with burglary skills. She has great comic timing and her crabby old man is every bit as amusing as Johnsons.

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Special mention to the four actors playing the real-world characters. I still wish we got to see more of them.

The effects are impressive, and the gang are placed in peril after peril, with the ever-present threat of running out of lives ensuring the drama never dips even though they’re in a game. It’s the sharp script that makes the film as much as the action however, and there are reversals and surprises aplenty.

Funny and exciting, featuring a cast still bringing they’re A game, Jumanji: The Next Level is a joy from start to finish. Will there be a third film? Given how well this one is doing I wouldn’t bet against it, but can they strike gold three times in a row? Only time will tell.

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