I think what made ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ work so well was how the older cast acting out as the teens inhabiting them was so wonderfully portrayed and performed. More than the jokes (and there were lots of it) and the fun action setups, ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ allowed Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and the scene-stealing Jack Black run with their roles.
They weren’t kidding when they called the sequel ‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ because not only did they add a bigger cast — Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, and Awkwafina — but they added more playable “characters” in the magical video game, a new map (meaning brand new setups), and several stories that deal with the different relationships within the narrative and how it all sort of revolves around escapism and self-worth.
Because that’s what really floats to the surface in ‘Jumanji: The Next Level.’ When Spencer (Alex Wolff) comes home for the holidays from college in New York, he’s not feeling like himself. And maybe a trip down into Jumanji might help him get back the confidence that he needs, or so he thought. When his friends come looking for him, they realize where Spencer has gone and chase after him but Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and Milo (Danny Glover), Eddie’s former best friend who is trying to make amends for something in the past.
As you can see in the trailer, Eddie is now in Dwayne Johnson’s Dr. Bravestone and Milo is in Kevin Hart’s Mouse. Whereas Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) is now in Jack Black’s Professor Sheldon and Martha (Morgan Turner) who returns to Karen Gillan’s Ruby Roundhouse.
The performances here are stellar as Johnson and Hart talk and act like DeVito and Glover. It actually feels like DeVito and Glover are in their bodies. The physicality and the even the witty humor really punches through. Jack Black still gets the biggest laughs, though, as he now plays the young black teenager Fridge, and he really gets it down to a tee without any sense of mockery.
And, as another trailer has shown us, some characters manage to switch bodies and that’s just another round of hilarity and another showcase of their amazing performances.
And the performances are important here because between Eddie and Milo’s storyline, we see two aging men who are rediscovering what it means to have a youthful body again. The temptation mixed with the characteristics of each avatar makes for some interesting narrative beats whereas the teens delve into the idea of Jumanji as a means of running away from who you are. It deals with the insecurity that comes with that age.
Yes, there are thrilling action sequences including a rope bridge sequence with mandrills and a fun desert run as the team are chased by angry ostriches but ‘Jumanji: Next Level’ surprisingly hit me harder than I thought at the end when the story closes off its loose narrative threads.
And there’s a lot here because everyone gets their moment and each person has a sort of struggle they need to deal with. It’s not just Spencer’s movie or Eddie and Milo’s movie. Each character has something to do and overcome and it’s nice because it feels like there’s a lot of care and love for these characters and this world.
There are moments when the film stops its narrative to play out a gag (and this happens frequently) but they are so funny and well-done that we let it go. There are elements that don’t feel like a video game the way ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ was but we let that slide too.
Everyone here is magnificent from Johnson to Hart to Black and a very versatile Awkwafina. ‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ really lives up to its name.