“Jumanji: The Next Level”: Game Over, Hopefully

Sebastian Hunt, The Forum's Head Writer of Film & TV

★★☆☆☆

You know the feeling you get when you’ve played a video game for too long? The controls are moist with sweat, your fingers ache from repeated bashings of buttons, your eyes grow weary. In other words, you’re exhausted. Not being much of a gamer, I’ve seldom experienced this sensation. Yet I imagine it is what many of you will feel after viewing Jumanji: The Next Level – a lengthy, slavishly derivative continuation of 2017’s surprise hit.

Plot-wise, things start off a couple of years after Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The main characters are college freshmen; the reality-warping Jumanji console long destroyed. Or, that is what we think – the game is soon reactivated, sucking in our heroes once more, this time in the company of some new, unexpected companions.

My major issues with The Next Level lie in the script. As it is largely a comedy, The Next Level is packed with jokes and moments of humor – none of which particularly amused me. The majority of the jokes feel recycled from its predecessor, a film that I didn’t really like. Therefore, solely as a comedy vessel, The Next Level fell flat for me.

That being said, I did admire the first film’s desire to advance franchise mythos. Regardless of execution, Welcome to the Jungle took a legitimately creative approach to its premise, and I applaud it for that. The Next Level, however, does just the opposite. There is nothing in the film, aesthetically or narratively, that feels new or different. This makes The Next Level an infuriatingly safe film. Now, granted, I can’t think of many interesting directions that the film could have gone, but that is not my job. It is the filmmakers’, and from that standpoint, I’d argue they failed.

There’s also a lack of commitment to franchise standards. Jumanji, as most of you probably know, is set mostly in a video game. Only the protagonists are “real”, everyone else is an avatar with already-decided lines and actions. This is something I felt Welcome to the Jungle captured very well, and what The Next Level gets mostly wrong. Though its visuals remain intact, The Next Level’s Jumanji world doesn’t really feel like a video game. A lot of the supposedly artificial characters are too organic; their dialogue doesn’t feel robotic enough. Ironic as it may be, well-written dialogue actually works against the film.

The performances are a mixed bag. Danny DeVito, a welcome addition to the cast, is hugely entertaining yet criminally underutilized. The main ensemble – Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gilliam, Jack Black and Kevin Hart – are about as you remember. Your enjoyment of Johnson, Hart and Black in particular relies on your enjoyment of their established personas. For instance, I didn’t care for Hart’s performance, but I imagine his devout fans will.

The Next Level isn’t all bad, and there’s certainly aspects to complement – the visuals, namely. Keep in mind that I didn’t really like the first film, an opinion I understand is somewhat unpopular. If you liked Welcome to the Jungle, you’re likely to enjoy The Next Level more than I did. Generally speaking, however, The Next Level is a forgettable, by-the-numbers popcorn flick deprived of any distinguishing qualities. 

 

Ratings Key:

★ – Bad (e.g., Godzilla ‘98, Pixels, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Justice League

★★ – Mediocre (e.g., Incredibles 2, Watchmen, Alice in Wonderland, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle)

★★★ – Good (e.g., Creed II, Batman, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Pretty In Pink, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective)

★★★★ – Great (e.g., Jurassic Park, The Empire Strikes Back, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Social Network)

★★★★★ – Amazing (e.g., Dr. Strangelove, The Terminator, The Dark Knight, Back to the Future, Skyfall)