‘I’ ON CULTURE
Sequels generally are not as good as the original and Jumanji: The Next Level falls to this prediction. However, it is a lot of fun, with more than a few really good moments to provide a fun time at the movies. Perhaps its major problem is that the first film was so creative that the second did not have a new path to follow. The idea of being caught up as avatars in a video game — avatars totally different from your real self — was creative enough to ensure a blockbuster. The new film builds on that idea.
A major problem is that there are more characters this time and more challenges, which limits character development for all of them. The youngsters involved now are more than simply caricatures, and there are other protagonists, leaving little screen time for all. Three of the four teens in the original films have grown as they went on to college, but Spencer (Alex Wolff) feels lost in New York. Back home for Christmas, he fixes the old game console and gets sucked back in the game world. His friends, when they realize the problem, go back to get him. But there are real changes. Martha (Morgan Turner) again takes the form of Karen Gillan’s badass Ruby Roundhouse, “killer of men.” But huge Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) is now Jack Black’s chubby map specialist, while Spencer’s Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) becomes Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) and his estranged best friend Milo (Danny Glover) becomes diminutive zoologist Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart). Eventually lovely Bethany (Madison Iseman) gets back in the game as a horse along with Seaplane (Nick Jonas).
The new bodies are a source of fun as the two leads imitate the old men they once were as they face a herd of vicious ostriches in a great CGI sequence. They soon catch up to Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina) a nervous cat burglar who turns out to be Spencer. They are all after a precious jewel (what else?) which will bring back good climate conditions if it gets out of the clutches of Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann) and is exposed to the sun. There is a bit more body switching, all stressing the need to help one’s friends.
It’s the chemistry between the main characters that make this work. While Hart is absolutely perfect doing the slow-talking Glover’s character, Johnson almost gets DeVito, and the lines are hysterical. He is definitely a fish out of water for the first half of the film, really tough, but having no idea what to do with it. Black steals the film, as he did the last one. Awkwafina as the avatar representing a few different characters is also great.
A new trend I’ve spotted in the last few months is the seeming absolute need to be “woke,” showing how the women are easily as good (and often superior to) as men. Here, in the middle of a fight scene when Bravestone chases after the lead bad guy, Mouse goes through the weapons cache he carries, brings out a boom box playing “Baby, I Love Your Way” and we watch Ruby dance fight her way to beat about 30 tough guys as she dances through the hall. No talk, no lectures, just beat the daylights out of all the bad boys while her male friends cheer her on. It’s a great scene.
The story is not very different from the first film; a major disadvantage. But the long action sequences really move things along. The ostrich stampede, an incredible jumping set piece as characters leap from an assortment of moving bridges while being chased by wild baboons, a sort of steampunk zeppelin, and the funny dance fight scene do more than move the plot along. They are delightful.
Again, this is not as good as the first, but it is a lot of fun. And if the scene that followed the credits is valid, it looks like there will be another Jumanji, one rather different, following. This film makes for a good time. See it.