A quirky quartet of avatars. A depthless villain. Angry beasts. Perilous settings. All the elements that made Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) so endearing have returned in Jumanji: The Next Level, once again directed by Jake Kasdan. But this time, the avatars have been endowed with new strengths and weaknesses, commandeered by new players, thrust into new settings, and faced with new threats both internal and external.
Spencer and Martha, who ignited their relationship in the first film, have gone to separate colleges. Their relationship has kind of sputtered out due to reasons that are “complicated”, according to Spencer. Moreover, Spencer’s Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and former restaurant partner Milo (Danny Glover) have had a falling out.
After a despondent Spencer allows himself to once again get sucked into the video game world of Jumanji, his three previous co-adventurers go after him, but inadvertently draw Eddie and Milo into the game. This time, the surface goal is to retrieve the Falcon Jewel held by the bearded savage Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann). As in the previous film, the circumstances present an opportunity to rekindle relationships and burn (but not fall off) bridges… all within the action-packed world of Jumanji.
Dwayne Johnson, as the near-flawless archaeologist Dr Smolder Bravestone, impressively channels Grandpa Eddie with his New York accent, lack of introspection, and dumbfounded expressions. Cartographer Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black) represents Fridge, a college football player much different than Oberon’s previous role as conceited teen Bethany. Dancefighter and “killer of men” Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) is the only avatar to retain her original player (Martha). The biggest (and perhaps most entertaining) avatar shift is Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart). Hart subdues his formerly exuberant and fast-talking performance as Fridge to mimic Milo, whose obliviousness to imminent danger and meandering delivery annoy other adventurers. Take, for instance, a scene in which the zoologist calmly shares facts about ostriches as one dashes toward the group.
Newcomer Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina) fits right in with the other off-kilter player/avatar matchups. How delightfully jarring it is to see this five-foot one-inch woman with an Asian ethnicity impersonate a player so dissimilar to her.
Like its predecessor, the sequel’s biggest strength is that it uses the guise of a one-dimensional action movie to explore the emotional complexities of love, friendship, and even growing old.—Douglas J. Ogurek *****
Read Douglas’s review of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017).