2017’s reboot, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, seemed to be another in a long line of needless reboots of old franchises. However, thanks to a cast with great chemistry and a lighthearted script, the film felt fresh, new and easily rewatchable.
So of course we needed a sequel. Jumanji: The Next Level reunites our cast of characters with some extremely thin pretenses to send them back into the dangerous video game, now bigger and more dangerous than ever. Unfortunately, by tweaking the formula of the first film, the sequel loses some of its charm. While still watchable, it’s clear the series is running out of steam quick.
With the teens spread out over the country and off to college, Spencer (Alex Wolff), Martha (Morgan Turner), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) reunite over winter break. Struggling in his freshman year at NYU, Spencer just happens to fix up the ol’ Jumanji video game destroyed at the end of the first film and his friends, accompanied inexplicably by his grandfather (Danny Devito) and his friend Milo (Danny Glover), must return to the jungle to rescue Spencer, who willingly went back.
Instead of returning to the same characters as last time, things get mixed up and Spencer’s grandfather ends up as the burly Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Milo ends up as Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), Fridge becomes Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black) while Martha returns as Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). It’s a pretty thin excuse to let Johnson and Hart play curmudgeonly old men, with Martha and Fridge mostly relegated to the straight men roles.
Switching up the personalities seems like an easy way to keep the sequel new and interesting, but instead it feels like you’re being deprived the chemistry of the first film. Eventually, we get the old gang in the usual bodies back, and the film seems to breathe a sigh of relief, amping up their teamwork and banter into a high-octane third act, leaving behind the gimmicks of the first two-thirds. Once you get the usual beats of Johnson and Hart bickering, Jack Black channeling a teenage girl and Doctor Who alum Karen Gillan dance fighting her way through hordes of enemies, it’s back to roaring fun.
As neatly as the first film was tied up, it was always going to be difficult to undo those plotlines enough to create a sequel. Some major gymnastics had to happen to get these characters to return into the game, with only partial success. The sequel does not make the same mistake, clearly laying the groundwork for what is sure to be at least a few more films.