Movies based on video games have been notoriously bad over the years, with very few managing get across what makes video games appealing. So, naturally, it took a movie about a fake video game, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, to succeed where so many others had failed. Now the makers of that 2017 film are hoping that lightning can strike twice with Jumanji: The Next Level.
The four unfortunate teenagers who got sucked into the video game in the first film do so again after Spencer (Alex Wolff) unadvisedly goes back into the game to search for extra meaning to his life. In the midst of a rescue mission by his friends, the game glitches, grabbing not only Martha (Morgan Turner) and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), but also Spencer’s grandfather, Eddie (Danny DeVito), and his friend, Milo (Danny Glover).
That glitch mixes up their characters, with Eddie becoming Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Milo becoming “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), Fridge becoming Professor Oberon (Jack Black), and Martha remaining as Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). The switched personalities offer plenty of opportunities for the actors, especially Johnson and Hart, to act completely unlike their normal selves.
In fact, the plot of the film — which involves something about the characters having to recover a stolen jewel in order to defeat the game — takes a backseat to the humor that comes from having each of the actors/characters in the game take on the personalities of the actors/characters outside of the game. That sentence can make things sound complicated, but it works like a charm in the context of the film.
Having Johnson and Hart act like old men who now have the physical gifts of younger men is the gift that keeps on giving. You’d think that Johnson scrunching up his face or Hart talking slowly would get old, but those and other “older” traits, combined with the physicality of the action scenes, works every time.
Gillan and Black get in on the fun to a lesser degree. Their less distinctive non-game counterparts are not as entertaining, but each of them knows how to amp things up to keep the movie humming. Late movie appearances by Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, and a majestic black horse only make the proceedings more fun.
Writer/director Jake Kasdan and co-writers Jeff Pinker and Scott Rosenberg, each of whom worked on the first film, have a knack for keeping the pedal to the metal without ever going off the road. They mix together clever twists, new elements, and callbacks, including a fantastic nod to the original 1995 film, for a result that works extremely well.
Johnson has made a number of questionable decisions in his acting career, but being part of the growing Jumanji franchise is not one of them. Jumanji: The Next Level disproves the law of diminishing returns with sequels thanks to a bevy of humor, action, and actors exploring their full capabilities.