I usually have a staunch aversion to remakes, reboots, and sequels a decade after the original. This bias kept me away from seeing Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle in theaters. But when I caught it on a streaming service, I knew I couldn’t make the same mistake when the inevitable direct sequel came out. Also directed by Jake Kasdan, Jumanji: The Next Level is more than just a sequel.
Jumanji: The Next Level brings back the cast from Welcome to the Jungle. Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Spencer (Alex Wolff), Bethany (Madison Iseman), and Martha (Morgan Turner) are pulled into the video game as their avatars, Mouse (Kevin Hart), Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Shelly (Jack Black), and Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). When Spencer goes back into Jumanji, his friends and his grandpa Eddie enter the game to bring him home. But, like any good video game, this new game plus version isn’t the same one they entered before.
But the largest catch to entering Jumanji this time is that each character has new skills, there are more obstacles, and they must move across even more dangerous levels as they clear areas of the game they haven’t seen before. From dunes, to an oasis, and an icy mountain, the areas of this new adventure have enough changes while still abiding by the rules established in the team’s first outing. In fact, the starkest environmental and obstacle differences that pull Jumanji: The Next Level into an even more believable embodiment of a video game than the first movie.
From platforming mechanics brought to the big screen in multiple scenes to the completely absurd NPC dialogue, it all works and hits my video game heart in a way that makes it even better than Welcome to the Jungle and more than a sequel but a new story that references the old while moving its characters into a new direction by embracing more than just the absurdity of video games, but the way level design works.
Additionally, this core crew does a phenomenal job during both the real world and the in-game Jumanji settings of the film. The chemistry and friendship is clear between each character and it’s only furthered when adding three new characters in the form of the bickering old men Eddie (Danny DeVito) and Milo (Danny Glover), and the new avatar Ming (Awkwafina). With these new character types and real-life counterparts, the avatars in Jumanji: The Next Level take on new personalities and the actors behind them stretch their acting talents. Truthfully, not only does a new adventure make Jumanji: The Next Level a whole new experience for audiences, these new faces and mannerisms do so as well.
Like the trailer showed, the avatars have been switched up, landing Eddie and Milo into the bodies of Bravestone and Mouse. While this addition, as well as moving Fridge to the role of map reader as Shelly, works to showcase new and old avatar skills in different ways and brings the fun a rerolling your own character into a new class. The awkwardness of finding out how to use your skills, the frustration to adjusting to the difference, oh, and of course flawless impressions of bickering old men coming out of the bromantic film duo of Johnson and Hart.
Truly, Hart makes the film, never once breaking character of mimicking Glover’s speech cadence and hitting the “old man tells 10 stories before getting to the point” in the best way, which adds a new challenge for the avatar meant to deliver information to the team quickly to save them from danger. Additionally, whether he’s speaking or hanging in the background every piece of Hart’s performance is believable as an old man in a new body.
Additionally, Akwafina’s physical performance as Ming and the personas controlling her are just as emotive and convincing. Like Hart, and Black as Fridge, she uses her entire body, face, and voice to morph into the characters her avatar represents. That being said, while Johnson is good, nailing large boisterous moments with that signature DeVito “huh,” there are other times he is just The Rock. Similarly, as Ruby Roundhouse, Gillan brings more of the same which isn’t bad, but lacks in comparison to the acting stretches that her co-stars were pushed to perform.
Jumanji: The Next Level is also a film that thrives on its humor while not nailing a perfect story. By adding in multiple character plots that drive the film, there is a simulated weight that the creators try to pull into the narrative that falls under the emotional bar it’s clearly aiming for.
That being said, there is so much to love in this film that small pitfalls let don’t stop the films respawn at the next hilarious moment. To best describe the film, one only needs to look at the audience in your screening, and in mine, it was filled with laughter, providing a communal experience and one that’s great for the whole family.
Overall, Jumanji: The Next Level nails the heart, humor, and physicality of the first while also providing a film that offers a new experience and one-ups everything about the first. With the holidays getting ready to start, this is one that should shoot to the top of your list.
Jumanji: The Next Level premieres nationwide December 13, 2019.
Jumanji: The Next Level
Overall, Jumanji: The Next Level nails the heart, humor, and physicality of the first while also providing a film that offers a new experience and one-ups everything about the first.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.