Where ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle‘ was a genuine surprise full of wonderful twists and unexpected turns that also acknowledged the original board game film by playing homage to it, ‘The Next Level’ feels like a watered down rehash of what we’ve all seen before. Once again, Jumanji is ready to battle Star Wars at the holiday box office, but this time it seems the Mouse House will win. Luckily Mr. Johnson has his next film ‘Jungle Cruise‘ lined up, which also takes place in the wilderness, and is made by Disney.

Jumanji: The Next Level takes place a year after the events in ‘Welcome to the Jungle’. Spencer (Alex Wolff) is an insecure loner at NYU, ignoring incoming calls from his long distance girlfriend Martha (Morgan Turner), who’s seemingly having a great time on her own. Bethany (Madison Iseman) is on her way back home for Christmas, after taking a gap year on the other side of the world, while Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) has been spending most of his time at the gym. Spencer is surprised to find out he’ll be sharing a room with his grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito), who recently had hip surgery, and realises life didn’t turn out the way he wanted after high school. While trying to fix the game, he gets sucked back in and it’s up to his friends to once again save him from the different challenges in Jumanji.

Co-writer and director Jake Kasdan (Bad Teacher) is back to helm his sequel to the box office juggernaut. But while he tries to refresh the story, by introducing new ways the avatars in the game are able to interact and change, he also forgot to make it interesting and to not just repeat exactly what he did in the previous film. The film drags when there’s no action on screen, and is just not as funny, since there’s nothing new to begin with. The three big action sequences, involving mostly animals, are exciting and riveting, but the overuse of CGI looks too fake when you are dealing with life-like avatars in a game.

Not just the director and writers are back, but also the entire cast, with some new and welcome additions. What has been a wonderful year for Awkwafina, after her success with small film ‘The Farewell‘, is getting even better when proving she’s the best part of this blockbuster. The hysterical cat-burglar Ming is just the type of character that felt fresh and thought-through. Another new character in the game is a horse, and even she has more surprises up her hoof than good old Dwayne Johnson (Fast & Furious: Hobbs and Shaw). He’s unfortunately the weakest link in the film, with nothing more than just changing up his mannerisms and voice, there’s not much else that changes him from every other part he’s ever played before.

Karen Gillan (Avengers: Endgame) and Jack Black (The House With A Clock In Its Walls) are comical, get the most screen time and the best lines, especially when their characters aren’t exactly what they seem from the previous film. Comedy legend Danny DeVito (Dumbo) plays newcomer Grandpa Eddie and is typically DeVito, which diehard fans will thoroughly enjoy.

Jumanji: The Next Level isn’t just repetitive and never ending, it’s just not as crisp as the beautiful white snow our characters walk on. Besides a few laugh-out-loud jokes and the inevitable by-drums-preceding heavy action packed sequences, this sequel feels lazy and not worthy of its predecessors which both tried and succeeded changing up the adventure-genre. An overlong third chapter in the Jumanji-franchise that Grandpa Eddie would label as just… meh.

⭐⭐

Review – ‘Jumanji: The Next Level’

Reviewed at Event Cinemas, Sydney, Dec. 14, 2019. Australian Classification: PG. Running time: 123 min.

PRODUCTION: A Sony Pictures Releasing release of a Hartbeat Productions, Matt Tolmach Productions, Seven Bucks Productions, Sony Pictures Entertainment production. Producers: Dany Garcia, Hiram Garcie (p.g.a.), Dwayne Johnson, Jake Kasdan, Matt Tolmach (p.g.a.). Executive producers: Ted Field, David B. Householter, Melvin Mar, Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, William Teitler, Chris Van Allsburg, Mike Weber.

CREW: Director: Jake Kasdan. Screenplay: Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg. Based on the book ‘Jumanji’ by: Chris Van Allsburg. Camera (color, widescreen): Gyula Pados. Editors: Steve Edwards, Mark Helfrich, Tara Timpone. Music: Henry Jackman.

WITH: Karen Gillan, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Marin Hinkle, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain, Awkwafina, Danny DeVito, Nick Jonas, Colin Hanks, Alex Wolff, Danny Glover, Morgan Turner.

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