Jumanji: The Next Level

Review by Rich Cline | 2.5/5

Jumanji: The Next Level
dir Jake Kasdan
scr Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg
prd Dwayne Johnson, Jake Kasdan, Dany Garcia, Hiram Garcia, Matt Tolmach
with Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Colin Hanks, Rory McCann, Morgan Turner, Ser'Darius Blain, Madison Iseman
release US/UK 13.Dec.19
19/US Columbia 2h03

jonas awkwafina devito
See also:
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

gillan, black, johnson and hart
The filmmakers have fun playing with the formula they created for the 2017 reboot of this franchise. But the gaming premise has the same fundamental flaw: there's absolutely no peril, so nothing is suspenseful. And the comedy slapstick is too silly to be funny. What's left is some goofy wit and pushy sentimentality. Thankfully, most cast members are gifted at spanning this range of material.
Now studying at university in New York, Spencer (Wolff) is nervous about going home to see his friends (Turner, Blain and Iseman) for Christmas, having let his friendships slide. His grandfather Eddie (DeVito) is staying, struggling to reconnect with his old pal Milo (Glover). And they all magically end up in a new level of Jumanji, travelling to the desert and then a snowy mountain fortress to rescue a powerful jewel. They're joined by new avatars Ming (Awkwafina) and a horse as they take on the evil Jurgen (McCann) and his barbarian horde.
There are amusing jokes along the way, plus more connections to the 1995 original, but this script feels written by a committee, cycling through wackiness, thrills and emotion as it merrily body-swaps the avatars (Johnson, Black, Hart and Gillan) without having the nerve to push things too far. There's still quite a bit of seriously nasty violence and full-on innuendo, but for the most part things are smiley and zany. Thankfully the characters get more texture this time.

Johnson is terrific as the heroic avatar Bravestone, although his attempt to mimic DeVito wobbles badly. Awkwafina is much better as DeVito, but then she steals the show because she's so gifted at playing comedy, action and emotional moments. Black and Hart have a lot of fun taking on various personas, while Gillan gets to do more more than just run around in skimpy outfits this time. And in their framing scenes, DeVito and Glover lend some veteran comical oomph to the entire film.

Dwelling on the movie's nagging plot holes or dodgy digital effects seems pointless, since we're essentially watching a videogame. As is criticising the cynical way the movie tries to be all things to all audiences and falls short in each area. But it's fast and eye-catching, and it has an enjoyably jaunty tone that provides plenty of gleefully hammy moments for these watchable actors. In other words, it's a terrible movie by any measurement, but it's still entertaining.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 3.Dec.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall