Jake Kasdan (director)
2h 3mins (length)
12 December 2019 (released)
12 December 2019
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a sequel to the 1995 original Jumanji, was a surprise hit with critics and audiences alike and a box office success when it was released in 2017, so a follow-up was to be expected.
Jumanji: The Next Level begins with the four teenagers from the previous film - Spencer (Alex Wolff), Bethany (Madison Iseman), Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), and Martha (Morgan Turner) - returning home from college for the holidays.
After Spencer fails to show up for brunch, they head over to his house and discover that he has repaired the Jumanji video game they damaged last time and entered it by himself.
Knowing he will never escape without their help, the trio re-enters the game - but this time they can't select their avatars and Spencer's grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his estranged friend Milo Walker (Danny Glover) end up in there too.
Now, as the game avatars Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Franklin 'Mouse' Finbar (Kevin Hart), Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black), and Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), the team must find Spencer and complete the game to escape.
Thankfully, this film isn't a simple repeat of the 2017 instalment. The crux of the story - having to beat Jumanji to escape - is the same but many aspects are different, with fresh avatar-character combinations, new in-game characters such as pickpocket Ming (Awkwafina), each avatar having new strengths and weaknesses, and the action moving from the jungle to the desert and an icy mountain range.
Director/co-writer Jake Kasdan made a brilliant move by casting DeVito and Glover as new real-world characters and bringing them into the game as that changed the dynamic greatly.
In the first one, we just witnessed the four avatars portraying teenagers and this time it is a mix, meaning we get to see Johnson channelling DeVito and Hart doing his best Glover impersonation, which helps him steal the show.
While it doesn't quite capture the magic of the previous one, The Next Level is really captivating and funny. There is so much scope for comedy with the new avatar-character combos, with standouts being Hart as Milo Walker, Awkwafina as Grandpa Eddie - her DeVito impression was top-notch - and Black as Bethany.
It is slightly repetitive as the Jumanji veterans have to explain how it works to the newbies and we spend time on strengths and weaknesses again - and the digitally-created animals don't look particularly realistic - but it excels in so many other areas, from the character interactions to the comedic one-liners, that it can be forgiven for these.
It's surprising and impressive that Kasdan managed to make a follow-up that expands the story, brings so many new elements to the table and is just as funny as the first one. The Next Level is an enjoyable, entertaining movie.