Review by Sean Boelman
Jumanji: The Next Level, the aptly-named sequel to 2017’s nostalgia-driven surprise hit, promises to up the game by giving audiences an even more action-packed adventure. Other than a few welcome additions to the cast, this mostly feels like a repeat of the last entry, but it is still relatively enjoyable and mindless fun regardless.
Picking up a couple years after the last film, this sequel follows the gang as they return into the game to rescue one of their own, only to find out that the game has changed. Perhaps the biggest issue with this movie is that it follows the formula of the previous entry to the beat. Whereas Welcome to the Jungle played out as a tongue-in-cheek parody of the tropes of video games and adventure films, The Next Level too often falls victim to the formula.
As expected, much of the movie’s humor revolves around slapstick. While there are still some laughs to be had in the premise of these zany video game characters being completely inept at what they are programmed to do, too many of the jokes are recycled from the film’s predecessor, such as Johnson’s character being inhumanly strong. Other visual gags that would be more successful are disappointingly spoiled in the trailers.
The real draw of this movie is getting to see some of the most successful comedians and action stars working today do some wild caricatures, and this film takes it even further by allowing some of the actors to do impressions of their co-stars. It is undeniably a funny prospect to watch Dwayne Johnson do a Danny DeVito impersonation, and while it is very entertaining at first, it eventually wears old. Other actors, such as Awkwafina, are completely underused.
The main area in which this movie falls short is its character development. Part of what made Welcome to the Jungle work so well was that the characters were legitimately likable and viewers got invested in their arcs. In this film, the arcs of those characters is mostly complete, and as such, new (and more generic) conflict must be introduced, and it is nowhere near as effective at creating an emotional connection to the movie.
Since the real-world characters in the film aren’t particularly interesting this go around, the first twenty minutes or so drag significantly. It takes way too long to deliver the exposition to get these characters back into the world of the game, because that is where a majority of the entertaining moments occur.
On a visual level, the movie does a pretty solid job of immersing the audience within the world of the game, but it does become obvious at times that production was rushed. With a turnaround time of less than two years between the release of Welcome to the Jungle and this film, extra time could have been taken to allow the visual effects team to add some more polish to the CGI-intensive scenes.
For the most part, Jumanji: The Next Level is just more of the same, and the law of diminishing returns definitely comes into play. That said, this movie seems like a bridge to another sequel that is going to be a ton of nostalgic fun.
Jumanji: The Next Level opens in theaters on December 13.