JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (2019) review

Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony Pictures)

Jumanji: The Next Level hits cinemas across the UK from December 11, 2019.

Synopsis

When Spencer goes back into the fantastical world of Jumanji, pals Martha, Fridge and Bethany re-enter the game to bring him home. But everything about Jumanji is about to change, as they soon discover more obstacles and more danger to overcome.

Review

It was with some trepidation that I went in to my screening of Jumanji: The Next Level. A huge fan of the original I felt unsure about 2017’s Welcome To The Jungle. Whilst ultimately entertaining I felt it lacked the originality of the classic Robin Williams film and also much of its heart.

I was pleasantly surprised that The Next Level, again directed by Jake Kasdan, was able to up the ante considerably to create a funny, original and heart filled adventure set within the world of the video game.

The success of the film is in no small part thanks to the chemistry between its cast. Whilst we spend little time with the teenage cast they are able to recreate some of the magic which exists between the adult actors. The Next Level instantly surpasses its predecessor by giving the teens a more grounded relationship. Though their circumstances are a little outlandish, in some cases, Alex Wolff’s Spencer is able to add some much needed humanity and insecurity.

His isolation from his friends being the catalyst for their return to Jumanji felt in earnest to the story rather than a piece of pure plot contrivance. It certainly feels like Kasdan and co-writers Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg are trying to beef up their characters.

Given this film’s ending I wonder if we’re heading for a team up between the teens and their avatars or a film which will focus much more heavily on them.

Adding Danny DeVito and Danny Glover to the cast also adds some weight to the overall film. Firstly it brings some more acting chops to the outside world and the inside Jumanji it gives Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart a chance to flex more of their comedic muscles.

Admittedly many of the laugh in The Next Level come from watching the adult cast attempt to play whole new characters. The film cleverly doesn’t completely refresh the concept by keeping Morgan Turner’s Martha inside Karen Gillan’s Ruby Roundhouse. She’s easily the most identifiable and likeable member of the cast but that could be because I’m a Doctor Who fan.

In many ways The Next Level reflects classic 80’s video game. It takes all of the successful elements of the previous version and augments them just enough to keep the concept interesting.

Eddie (DeVito) being inside Dwayne Johnson’s Dr. Smolder Bravestone is dynamite and the way he plays off Milo (Glover) in Kevin Hart’s Franklin “Mouse” Finbar. Their “old man” humour is easily a highlight of the film as it appeals to all ages. Putting Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) in to Jack Black’s Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon is also a great source of humour.

Each of the characters is confronted by something which troubles them in their outside life. For Martha/Ruby it’s fitting in and finding her place in the society, for Milo and Eddie it’s facing up to their past, for Fridge/Shelly it’s the loss of the athletic abilities he is so reliant on in college life and for Bethany (Madison Iseman)… well it’s being stuck inside a horse for part of the film.

Other new additions to the cast include Awkwafina as Ming Fleetfoot, at first the new avatar of Spencer (Alex Wolff) and then second avatar of Eddie. She is less successful as Spencer and absolutely a stand out as Eddie. Her portrayal of Spencer feels a little caricature where she appears to have much more fun as Eddie, her recreation of Danny DeVito’s voice will easily have you rolling around in the aisles.

Rory McCann (Game of Thrones) also joins the cast as the villainous Jurgen the Brutal giving the Jumanji franchise its first villainous focal point. His character is less important than the journey it takes to get to him but that is so often the case with video games that it feels in keeps with the structure of the film.

The story of The Next Level takes the franchise to new locations, exploring the desert lands as well as snow capped mountains within the game. It all helps to keep the film feeling fresh and allows the writers to bring in new types of creature and new puzzles to task the players. It all adds up to a very fresh feeling film but doesn’t overtly rely on the tropes of its predecessor.

The scope of The Next Level feels much larger also. As the characters were leaping between rope bridges whilst being chased by feral monkeys, a huge death drop below them and nothing but mountains surrounding them it feels like the kind of land that Robin Williams, Alan Parrrish could have been lost in as a child.

The VFX are exactly as you would expect going on to this huge budget tentpole film. There are odd moments where CGI landscapes looked a little soft and not full integrated but on the whole the film is absolutely top notch. Cinematography is on par with the previous film, whilst it lacks visual flare it does play well to the story and is absolutely on par with this type of popcorn film.

The aforementioned rope bridge sequence and the desert Ostrich chase and two of the highlight set pieces of the film which does lose its visual impact in the first act by instead choosing to focus on the heart of its characters.

A surprising character twist proves to be a tearjerker of a moment in the film’s closing minutes before the actions shifts back to the outside world and continues to tie up the emotional storylines of its various characters.

I won’t spoil too much but a cameo appearance from an original Jumanji character and the appearance of several more Ostriches signals an interesting future for the franchise which has definitely hit a new high point with this instalment.

Verdict

Surpassing its predecessor in every respect, Jumanji: The Next Level is laugh out loud fun. Bold, brash and expansive, this film takes the franchise to all new territory.

8/10

Jumanji: The Next Level is directed by Jake Kasdan and stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Ser’Darius Blain and Madison Iseman.


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About Neil Vagg 4584 Articles
Neil is the GYCO Editorial Chief. He has a BA in Film & Tv and an MA in Scriptwriting; he currently works 9-5 as an office manager and 5-9 as a reviewer/web designer. He has been subscribing to comics for around nine years but has been reading them as long as he can remember. Favourite comics: Batman; Nightwing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and All New X-Men Favourite films: Batman (any apart from & Robin); Star Trek Generations, Underworld, Beetlejuice Favourite TV shows: Fringe; Buffy, Arrow, TBBT, Being Human UK and Star Trek TNG