Nobody really expected Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle to be any good. At least, nobody who remembered the original 1995 film fondly. Of course, it turned out to be a pretty enjoyable experience. Certainly more enjoyable than the first pictures suggested. Thanks to Karen Gillan’s unnecessarily revealing costume, it seemed as though it was suffering from the same sexist approach as other Hollywood films. It turned out there wasn’t quite so much to worry about and the film made just under $1 billion worldwide. With figures like that, it was inevitable that a sequel would be on its way and, two years later, Jumanji: The Next Level was released. I had mixed feelings about the film. Part of me was really excited to see if they could match or, perhaps, better the 2017 film. The other part was worried that it would go the way of most Hollywood sequels. Wanting something fun and carefree to watch on my holiday, I decided it was finally time to find out.
Jumanji: The Next Level picks up 3 years after the last film. The four teenagers from the first film have moved on from High School and are leading separate lives. Most of them have flourished after their experiences in the jungle but Spencer finds the real world unfulfilling. So, he decides to go back. It turns out that Spencer rebuilt the game and has it set up to go back. When his friends find out, they agree to go back and help him. Only, things don’t go according to plan as Spencer’s grandfather Eddie and his friend Milo are dragged into the game as well. With tensions running high between the two pensioners, the gang have to try and get the pair through the game and find Spencer. But can they work together to finish the game and save Jumanji again?
This film succeeds in bringing a freshness to the sequel thanks to the introduction of new characters. Introducing the two elderly players was a clever move. Not only is it an incredibly easy way to explain the basic premise to any new viewers but it allows the actors to try new things. In the last film, we all loved seeing Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson embracing their inner teenagers but I’m glad that they mixed things up this time. Giving the avatars to different characters was a great idea and brought different humour to the film. It also allowed them to have a bit more fun. You can tell that Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson enjoyed doing their impersonations of Danny DeVito and Danny Glover, which made it even more enjoyable.
As well as bringing back all of the familiar faces, the new chapter also introduces us to some interesting new characters. Most importantly the cat burglar Ming Fleetfoot played by Awkwafina. She appears in the story as Spencer’s new avatar and is a fun addition to the group. Then there is the new bad guy, Jurgen the Brutal played by Rory McCann. He isn’t really a well-developed antagonist but McCann is always fun in a sneering kind of way. The last film both benefited from and was held back by using a reimagined version of Van Pelt as the main villain. Maybe it made him seem more menacing than he was or maybe nostalgia just made it more acceptable. This time around, I wish we’d been given more time to get to know who Jurgen was.
As a whole, the latest film in the Jumanji franchise did a similar thing to the last one. It’s fun and has a pretty decent storyline to it. Last time, we had an emotional resolution when the four teenagers came out of the game understanding each other a bit more. This time, the narrative is dominated by Eddie and Milo. The pair bring the majority of the laughs and the majority of the emotional pull. It means that both Johson and Hart get a lot more to do than Jack Black or Karen Gillan. There is a less cohesive feel about this film than the previous one thanks to the older generation. It keeps flitting between the different groups and trying to reconcile too many things at once.
I’d also suggest that this lacks a bit of action when compared to its predecessor and is held back by slightly dodgy CGI. A moment that really stands out is when Karen Gillan’s Ruby Roundhouse has to perform mind-blowing acrobatics to reach a much-needed object in the game. The CGI figure looks so fake that it’s impossible to really immerse yourself in the action. Jumanji: The Next Level is a perfectly adequate predecessor to the 2017 film but every subsequent release just shows that the formula won’t work forever. We can assume there will be at least one more sequel but, if I’m honest, I don’t hold out much hope.