2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle became an absolute box office juggernaut when it came out, despite going toe to toe with The Last Jedi. Obviously, a sequel was inevitable and now the whole Jumanji crew, plus some new additions, are back for Jumanji: The Next Level.
Picking up three years after Welcome to the Jungle, the quartet of Spencer (Alex Wolff), Bethany (Madison Iseman), Martha (Morgan Turner) and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) are still close friends after their experience surviving Jumanji but have been separated by college and other experiences. The group plans to reunite for Christmas but Spencer, feeling insecure about his life and relationship with Martha, rebuilds the Jumanji video game system so he reexperience being in the body of Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson). When Spencer fails to show up for their reunion brunch, the rest of the group seeks him out and run into Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and Eddie’s estranged restaurant partner Milo (Danny Glover). When the trio realizes Spencer went back into Jumanji, they decide to go in and help him but the malfunctioning game sucks in Martha, Fridge, Eddie and Milo, leaving Bethany back in the real world. Martha is back in the body of Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) but Fridge is now Professor Oberon (Jack Black) with Eddie in Bravestone and Milo in the body of Mouse (Kevin Hart). The group finds out the mission they are on is drastically different than the first time and that Spencer is nowhere to be found. The Next Level provides enough new stuff while keeping what made its predecessor work and, if you liked Welcome to the Jungle, there’s no reason you wouldn’t like The Next Level as well. The avatar quartet of Johnson, Black, Hart and Gillan are still as delightful and 100% committed as they were in the first movie and they seem to be having an absolute blast together. Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson carry a lot of the comedic weight for at least the first half as they adapt their elderly alter egos mannerisms and vocal performance as well. I personally thought Kevin Hart was just doing his usual thing in the first movie but he really digs into matching Danny Glover’s vocal tics and specifically his character Milo’s tendency to go off on long-winded tangents, even when there is imminent danger. Karen Gillan and Jack Black, as they have the experienced Martha and Fridge playing them, get to play the exasperated veterans and there’s a lot of comedy mined from them just trying to explain what a video game is to their doddering new partners. The Rock, god bless him, really tries to go all out doing a crazy Danny Devito voice but it’s a little much and he kind of gets shown up later by Awkwafina, who plays a new game character named Ming Fleetfoot, and who has to also adapt Danny Devito’s vocal mannerisms later in the movie.
One aspect that was not improved on from Welcome to the Jungle is the completely uninteresting villain character. Rory McCann plays a new, Vikingesque, villain named Jurgen the Brutal, who has stolen a valuable gem that needs to be recovered to stop a deadly famine throughout Jumanji but he’s somehow even less interesting than Welcome to the Jungle’s villain. It seems like now with two bland villains that maybe it’s like commentary for how video games usually have half-assed plots and villains but, if that’s the case, it’s not addressed as such. Even someone saying “Man, why do games always have such crappy villains” would have at least acknowledged that Jurgen was intentionally bland. I think I mentioned it in my review of Welcome to the Jungle but both of these movies could have completely abandoned these villains and just had vicious animal-based set-pieces and they would have been just fine. Everything where the gang has to fend off killer animals is extremely fun and this time around its things like a herd of ostrich in the desert and a pack of mandrils attacking across a collection of suspended bridges. The new locations like the desert and the snowy mountains also offer up a fun change of pace and there are some new elements like new player avatars like Awkwafina and things like water that lets you switch characters with someone that offer up some fun plot and comedic opportunities.
Overall, Jumanji: The Next Level is another fun romp with this group of characters and, if you liked Welcome to the Jungle, you’ll most likely enjoy this one as well. The element of discovery that made Welcome to the Jungle is mostly absent here as, being a sequel, most of the mechanics we already know but the new cast members, new locales and some new elements in the Jumanji video game offer up enough to jump back into this world for another round.