Jumanji: The Next Level

Movie Information

A classic '80s body-switch premise with state-of-the-art FX and plenty of action. It might be old hat, but at least it's fun.
Genre: Adventure/Comedy
Director: Jake Kasdan
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart
Rated: PG-13

Strangely, it doesn’t bother me that Jumanji: The Next Level is a nearly beat-for-beat remake of its 2017 predecessor, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. In fact, I find it somewhat refreshing. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel just for a goofy, ’80s-style genre picture, after all — something I’m not sure is even possible when Dwayne Johnson is involved. Besides, sometimes walking into a theater knowing exactly what to expect is a welcome relief. Its laughs are earned, and its adventure is exciting, making The Next Level a better-than-average, if familiar, action/comedy experience.

Once again, a group of friends is magically transported into a mysterious video game called “Jumanji.” While inhabiting the game’s avatars, they must work together to complete each level and save the world, or die trying. As with Welcome to the Jungle, the joke is that everyone winds up in the body of a character fundamentally opposite from their real-life self, prompting all sorts of comedic awkwardness.

In what I suppose constitutes as a twist, the group is unexpectedly joined by a pair of bickering seniors who are naturally clueless in all manner of decorum and tact. Enter the big hook (and what I feared most): Kevin Hart mustering a passable Danny Glover impression and Johnson hamming it up as a 6-foot-5 Danny DeVito.

This schtick has the potential to get very old very fast, but thankfully the film keeps things moving at such a pace that we’re never subjected to too much of it at a time. Director Jake Kasdan knows when to pull back and let well-executed action sequences take center stage. In this manner, the comedy thankfully complements rather than irritates. In the end, it’s a pleasant balance, with much of the load being lifted by Jack Black (who seems tacked on this time around) and a criminally underused Awkwafina. Some of the film’s best material, though, once again comes from Karen Gillan as the man-killing nunchuck expert, Ruby Roundhouse. With everyone else competing for laughs, Gillan nearly runs away with the whole thing.

Between the body-switching, the swashbuckling and the vintage video game consoles, The Next Level is a film the ’80s would have killed for had anyone been able to combine enough tropes and invent the FX necessary to successfully pull it off. Its PG-13 rating seems excessive, considering it would have been low-end PG family material when I started going to the movies, but I guess that’s where we are now.

The Next Level might not give us anything new under the sun, but it shouldn’t have to. It’s enough. Suitable for spastic preteen nieces and nephews and grandparents alike, it may be the perfect holiday escape for the whole family. Yes, we’ve seen it before and we’ll probably see it again, but if it’s fun you seek, fun you shall find.

About James Rosario
James is a writer, record collector, wrestling nerd, and tabletop gamer living with his family in Asheville, North Carolina. He is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and contributes to The Daily Orca, Razorcake Magazine, and Mountain Xpress.

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