It’s been a couple of years since Spencer (Alex Wolff) and his friends Bethany (Madison Iseman), Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), and Martha (Morgan Turner) played ‘Jumanji’ together. Now they’re off to college but Spencer has been struggling to find his place. He decides to return to that familiar albeit terrifying titular video game and the gang follows him in – only this time their avatars of Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Professor Sheldon (Jack Black), Franklin (Kevin Hart) and Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) get all mixed up when Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his friend Milo (Danny Glover) are sucked into the game too.
You’ll probably be a bit lost if you watch ‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ having not seen ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’, but fans of the 2017 comedy will find much to enjoy. You’ve got a great ensemble here between the young cast members as well as Johnson, Black, Hart and Gillan alongside DeVito and Glover. In terms of the performances, some are better than others.
DeVito is most definitely the MVP but in a scene where he is confronted by Glover’s Milo, the ‘Lethal Weapon’ alum owns the screen. Less impressive is Dwayne Johnson acting as Danny DeVito’s avatar – one gets the sense that he’s just doing a general impersonation of a cranky old guy. Hart fares much better as Glover’s alter-ego and while Black does a decent Fridge – though it’s no Robert Downey Jr. in ‘Tropic Thunder’ – he’s definitely in his element playing a teenage girl.
Another returning face is Rhys Darby as the helpful-but-not-really guide Nigel Billingsley while Rory McCann (it’s The Hound!) steps in as the new bad guy. Awkwafina impresses too, though one can’t divulge in her role too much as that would be spoiling the game.
In fact, it’s generally hard to write a review for ‘The Next Level’ without spoilers given much of the comedy relies on who plays who, a similar case to the predecessor. There’s also a lot of humour depending on the old people (they’re slow and grumpy and confused by how video games work) and youths (impatient to get on with it) butting heads, and while they force some depth in Eddie and Milo hashing out their years-long conflict in the bodies of Johnson and Hart, it never rings true. Still, it’s the laughs we came for, not the DMCs; that and the action which kicks off with a ‘Mad Max’-inspired desert-set scene set to music which sounds reeeeally like ‘Jurassic Park’.
‘The Next Level’ is about the same amount of fun as its predecessor because you can enjoy the familiarity of a second go-round but also feel somewhat slighted by the lack of creativity as, at its heart, it’s the same formula all over again. There’s a nice albeit strained message of feeling good in your own skin and you can tell it’s playing off young people being secure in a super commercialised way. The silliness increases as it reaches its climax and the action-adventure sequences are heavily CGI dependent, but still, you can’t deny that it is good fun.