Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Film Review: Jumanji - The Next Level

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Mature
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

2017's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a fun popcorn film that was a pleasant diversion with very little lingering feeling.

Jumanji: The Next Level feels like the re-heated left-overs of the previous film.

The movie takes place about a few months after the adventures of Welcome to the Jungle.  The high school gang of geeky Spencer (Alex Wolff), brainy Martha (Morgan Turner), social media darling Bethany (Madison Iseman), and athlete Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain) have all gone off to college, but the distance has caused them to drift.  Spencer especially feels this isolation as his cranky grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) moves in, who has a long-standing beef with former business partner Milo (Danny Glover).  Things take a turn when Spencer is once again pulled into the magical Jumanji game.  His friends go back in to get him.  The twist this time is that they don't all return to the same avatar bodies.  Eddie ends up as muscular Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson).  Milo becomes the diminutive Mouse (Kevin Hart).  Fridge becomes the rotund Oberon (Jack Black).  And Martha once again becomes the athletic Ruby (Karen Gillan).  Together they must find Spencer and win the game to get back home.

This movie is very much a by-the-numbers magic-world adventure.  There twists and turns that are not without enjoyment, but they are also not without surprise.  The movie works best as a showcase for the avatar actors to show off their comedy range and charisma.  Particularly, the cast loves to do their impressions of DeVito, which is admittedly pretty funny.  Awkafina joins the cast and brings some comedy, but nothing terribly original. Later on in the story, the avatars begin to swap personalities.  While this concept never reaches the level of "great," it is nevertheless enjoyable.  You cannot overestimate the effect of goodwill which was earned by this cast and the chemistry that they have with each other.  Even when the jokes don't land, you don't care as much because part of you is content to be in this pleasant and familiar company.

As to the main game plot, it is nothing too terribly interesting.  Even writing about it afterwards, it is very difficult to remember the details.  The games inner workings act a bit more on the glitchy side, but it doesn't add much to the story.  Director Jake Kasdan has brought the same visual flair to this movie as he did to the previous.  And the sequences lack any real stakes, but they are fun to look at.  The scene where our heroes have to jump from swinging bridges across a deep ravine is diverting and it kept my attention.  But there was nothing inherently thrilling. Partly it is because of how artificial the CGI world is, but also because I never felt a strong sense of danger.  Even Welcome to the Jungle was able to keep the tension to a decent level by they way the characters kept track of their lives remaining. 

The Next Level promises to kick things up a notch, but it is more of the same and that same is not as good as the one before.  But the movie does nothing inherently bad.  I know that sounds like I am damning with feint praise.  However, this movie does not deserve to be derided harshly.  It is a bit on the bland side, but to be fair it isn't trying to challenge our expectations in any way.  In fact, the movie seeks simply to entertain and it mostly delivers.  They do tease a third one that could give the story a much-needed shot in the arm, but we will have to wait and see.

So if you want to spend a couple of diverting hours on a movie that will leave you lighter rather than heavier, you could do worse than Jumanji - The Next Level.

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