HomeMovies'Jumanji: The Next Level' Review: Disappointing De Ja Vu

‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ Review: Disappointing De Ja Vu

Jumanji: The Next Level
Photo Credit: Frank Masi

This decade has seen more than its fair share of mediocre remakes and sequels of big name nostalgic properties — all for a quick cash grab. Yet, there was one sequel that was one of the most unexpected hits, both critically and financially of the decade, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

The 2017 continuation of the 1995 Robin Williams classic brought together a great cast to not only conjure up its own unique, humor-filled story that resonated with seas of viewers, but it also conjured up nearly $1 billion dollars worldwide. This receipt would ensure that a sequel would soon be on the way.

What impressed me about Welcome to the Jungle was how it managed to tie itself to the original without ever copying it or poorly trying to re-capture the film’s magic. The film also understood the tropes and entertaining aspects of video games better than most film adaptations of video games do. 

Two years later the stage was set for another strong showing from the Jumanji franchise with The Next Level. Unfortunately, the film just can’t live up to the hype of Welcome to the Jungle because it’s just way too similar to its predecessor. The premise is pretty much the same as before with the same group of teens, now in college, being once sucked back into the virtual world of Jumanji. However, after Spencer (Alex Wolff) tampers with the cartridge in order to get it to work again, he causes some issues that make everyone else’s return a little stranger.

While Marta (Morgan Turner) still returns as the kick-ass Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillian) avatar, everyone else is mixed up into new avatars. The athletic Fridge (Ser-Darius Blain) is now stuck in less-than athletic Professor Shelly (Jack Black). Spencer’s grandfather, Eddie (Danny Devito), and his friend Milo (Danny Glover) are also sucked into the game and throw into the roles of the muscular Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) and the diminutive Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), respectively. 

Aside from some body-switching fun, new characters in the game, and the difference of having Johnson and Hart playing old men, The Next Level doesn’t offer anything new. There’s no new challenges, or even new story ideas to make this film more than just a generic sequel. To be fair, there’re actually some interesting story threads and themes the film presents about aging particularly with Spencer dealing with transitioning to college and Eddie dealing the idea of getting old. But, there’s nothing done with them to make them special. Midway through the film you forget that these are issues the characters are trying to deal and when they wrap up towards the end you kind of don’t care. There’s been little development put in, so there’s very little emotional impact.

Even the stakes of the film were kind of wiped away this time around. One of the cleverest and most suspenseful parts of Welcome to the Jungle was when the characters “lost lives.” In Next Level, this is all wiped away because the way the characters lose lives it’s done in a manner that’s all too predictable and familiar to the previous film. 

It was also disappointing to see The Next Level not continue to play with more aspects of video games. There’s actually a lot of missed opportunities that stem from Spencer tampering and essentially creating a hacked version of the Jumanji game. There could’ve been glitches, characters clipping through walls, and a bunch of other fun things that could continue to push the envelope and add new challenges to the next adventure.

It’s actually a well-known thing in gaming for developers to also include things to negate players from playing pirated or illegal versions of the games – like the unkillable giant scorpion monster in Serious Sam 3 or removing the ability for pirate players to glide in Batman: Arkham Asylum which makes the game unplayable. With Spencer tampering with the cartridge, it could’ve been cool to some giant unkillable enemy making the group’s adventure tougher or certain mechanics stripped away.  

The performances, for the most part are just as good as last time. The entire cast definitely has a strong chemistry with one another, but the humor doesn’t always hit as strong. There’re times where the idea of body-switching is the film’s only joke aside from Johnson and Hart adopting Eddie and Milo’s personalities and characteristics. It was actually pretty funny to see Hart’s take on Milo’s slow-talking and proper personality and have it play a role in some issues the group faces. Even Johnson has some fun moments with Eddie’s hearing issues and inability to understand video games. However, the accent that Johnson dons is one of those things that’s funny for like five seconds. Gillian and Black are still great with Black actually doing a solid impression of Fridge. The addition of Awkwafina is also fine, even though she’s kind of just her usual comedic personality.

The shocking part of the film was that it not only failed in making the audience laugh, but the overall pace of the movie was fairly dull, and dare I’d say boring, at times. The action sequences are fine for the most part with the group running from a herd of ostriches and navigating swinging bridges across a seemingly bottomless gorge. Nothing is too memorable, though. Even the adventure they go on doesn’t pack the same kind of energy or fun like Welcome to the Jungle. Eventually, you kind of become so used to everything the film offers that it barely affects you anymore. All of this is what the makes the idea of a sequel, which the film hints to in a post-credit scene, kind of undesired. 

The best way I can described the kind of sequel that The Next Level is, in gaming terms, is that it’s like an HD Remake. It looks a little better, is more technically fined tuned, and maybe offers some new things for fans to enjoy but is just the same thing as the original. It’s actually a little disappointing to see the franchise go from being a surprisingly delightful adventure to dull Deja vu you’re tired of seeing. It’s tough to say whether or not the Jumanji franchise has any good lives left to spare, but in my opinion if the franchise doesn’t actually add anything new to keep things fresh – it’s game over.

Jumanji: The Next Level is now playing in theaters everywhere.

Tom Moore
Tom Moorehttps://mooreviews.com/
Tom is always ready to see and review everything horrifying and hilarious that hits theaters, television, and video games...sometimes. You can check out his other reviews and articles on his blog, Mooreviews.

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