Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has changed the conduct of the game and created a franchise out of the classic holiday flick, Jumanji. In brief, it’s way lighter and more carefree than the original. While the magic of the board game (eventually morphed into a video game console) still becomes the epicenter of the story, the magic of the story has gone astray. With an only two-year gap, Jumanji: The Next Level feels more closely to the 2017 movie than to the original one.
When Sony decided to green-light the sequel, they have instead rebranded the franchise—leaving only the spirit of Chris van Allsburg’s novel remains. Even when Jack Black confirmed via YouTube that Zathura is a part of the canon, the treatment for the whole franchise has taken sharp turns. The new direction for the franchise is moving to the vision of, if I may borrow Martin Scorsese’s term, theme parks. It’s adventure-minded and spectacle-minded, yet, most importantly, it demands cinematic viewings. You just gotta experience it to grasp the idea of what I was saying.
Plot-wise and presentation-wise, The Next Level sits closely to Welcome to the Jungle in many aspects. The whole narrative is an epitome of do-not-change-the-winning-formula credo. Main characters from 2017—Spencer (Alex Wolff), Martha (Morgan Turner), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), and Bethany (Madison Iseman)—return to Jumanji after Spencer fell into existential misery and missed their planned reunion. The thing is, Spencer’s grandfather (Danny DeVito) and his friend, Milo Walker (Danny Glover), also get sucked into the game, causing troubles for the whole party.
Jake Kasdan returns to direct; he also writes the screenplay alongside Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Venom) and Scott Rosenberg, who also returns. The narrative they projected lacks urgency and risks. It’s almost like a carbon-copy of Welcome to the Jungle, but with new stages such as deserts and ice-clad fortress. Rhys Darby reprises his role as Nigel, the NPC who would give some instructions and explain the whole mission. Basically, his instruction is the whole plot of The Next Level and, believe me, it’s only a few sentences long.
There is something odd about the casting products. Seemingly, the introduction of Danny DeVito and Danny Glover’s characters are some efforts to make the modern franchise spiritually connected to the original Jumanji’s vibes. Both actors might not virtually appear in any Jumanji movies before; but, just by having them in the rosters, older audiences might feel connected to the era where the first movie released. It’s completely unknown if the deja vu effect is deliberately staged; however, that only signifies that the franchise aims to only spiritually connect to the original movie.
The casts, however, become the sequel’s most solid elements. Having proven their capability to present likable avatars with enticing dynamics in their debut, the in-game party (Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, and Kevin Hart) successfully repeats the magic in The Next Level with some twists. While Gillan’s character does not get a striking upgrade, she seems to have enjoyed the role much. On the other hand, Johnson’s, Black’s, and Hart’s new characterizations create great dynamics to keep pumping your laughs. Awkwafina makes quite an entrance to Jumanji as a new Avatar and, by the time the movie ends, it’s hard to resist the temptation to crave more of her character.
Obviously, Jumanji: The Next Level keeps everything under the safe zone. It’s still funny, carefree, and entertaining even when it misses all the important questions of why we need another Jumanji sequel. Maybe it’s true that they’re only building a massive theme park.