When Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle booted up on theater screens in 2017, I don’t think anyone knew exactly what to expect. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart have charisma for days and had shown themselves a marketable duo with Central Intelligence, Jack Black is a national treasure, and Karen Gillan is a talent on the rise, but I wouldn’t have thought that’d translate to a film pitted against Star Wars: The Force Awakens grossing nearly a billion dollars at the worldwide box-office.
I had no emotional connection to the original Jumanji film with Robin Williams, in-fact, it isn’t a film I personally enjoyed (although the scene with the kid and the ax is my spirit animal), but I left Welcome to the Jungle pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t a great film by any stretch, but it was a fun popcorn flick. I don’t want to see The Rock in Oscar bait films, I want to see him acting goofy and over-the-top, and same can be said for nearly everyone else involved.
Jumanji: The Next Level is the third film in the Jumanji series (well, fourth, counting Zathura) and brings the likable cast of characters back from its predecessor. The film received positive critical reception and an equally warm reaction from audiences, although it hasn’t been held to the same esteem as the previous iteration. Like Welcome to the Jungle, The Next Level was pitted against Star Wars (The Rise of the Skywalker), and managed to swing it out to a very successful theatrical run. It didn’t nearly hit a billion, but with around eight-hundred million in the bank, I don’t think Sony will hesitate in doing another sequel.
The film has some changes this time around – for starters, Danny Glover and Danny Devito have been added to the cast, which brings some added quirks to the adventure. Set three years after the last film, the group of friends have now mostly moved on with their lives, but are doing their best to stay in-touch. Spencer and Martha’s long-distance relationship has been strained, and Spencer doubts himself because he isn’t who he was in Jumanji. As in, Spencer feels bad that he isn’t the buff, handsome Dr. Bravestone and that he doesn’t measure-up to that expectation of himself.
This compels him to reenter the world of Jumanji, which he kept against the wishes of his friends. When his friends find out about what he has done, they go back in to save him, accidentally bringing Spencer’s grandfather (Danny Devito) and his long-time best friend (Danny Glover) into the fray as well.
I think it is easy to see why some moviegoers might not take to The Next Level in the same way they did Welcome to the Jungle. After all, whereas the original Jumanji and Welcome to the Jungle were, in-fact, very different, and largely unique from one another, The Next Level definitely feels like more of the same that came prior. I wouldn’t say that this is to the film’s detriment by any means, but it does mean that any naysayers of the franchise are unlikely to become converts from this film.
The humor is the same family-friendly charm, and it hits and missed with about the same level of accuracy, which I would call middling overall. Personally, I found one significant aspect about the film that improved was the action sequences, which felt more elaborate and fleshed-out, including a mayhem-fueled scene involving rotating bridges and primates. It is all computer-generated action and special-effects, and the film has no issue exploiting the fact that it’s a video-game and thereby, doesn’t have to look very realistic, but I still had a lot of fun with it.
The actors, the characters, the sentiment, all of it feels on the same, ahem, level as the previous film, with Dwayne Johnson as electric as ever, and Jack Black enjoying his teenager girl voice more than ever, but some of the new dynamics (like character swapping) allows each characters portrayal to breathe in new life.
It isn’t a film that is meant to be analyzed or dissected, nor does its game offer the utmost “challenge” to those who watch it, but it accomplishes exactly what I would imagine fans want. It is a casual film that you can unplug your brain on and enjoy, brimming with colorful set-designs and energetic characters, some heart (and Hart) and sentiment, and a fun concept. The conflicts they meet don’t overstay their welcome and are resolved accordingly, and while it does play off the goodwill of its predecessor, I personally preferred Jumanji: The Next Level in the end. If you enjoyed the first, I believe you’ll enjoy this film. If you’ve seen neither, they’d make for a fun carefree marathon!