Although Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was fantastic, my expectations for the sequel immediately following it were low. In the back of my mind, I saw Jumanji: The Next Level as potentially being just another grab at cash since the one before it made far more money than anyone could have anticipated. Luckily, I can report that this sequel is offering more than that with a level of effort and enthusiasm that has to be greatly admired.
The four teenagers that we met in Welcome to the Jungle have seemingly put their experiences with Jumanji in the past. All appears to be going well on the surface until unpredictable events force them to return to the game they thought they left behind. This time, things are different as they’re no longer in the jungle. Now, they see that they must brave a series of new environmental if they hope to survive and make it back home safely.
It was hard for me to figure out just how The Next Level would be handled. A part of me knew there would be a strong chance that the filmmakers would simply rely on what was seen in Welcome to the Jungle and give us a product that was virtually the same as before. As we all know, that’s been a staple of Hollywood for ages, so that expectation is a reasonable one.
However, that isn’t completely what happens in The Next Level. There are definitely some features that are being used again, but there are also more than a few new “wrinkles.” This stuff being added helps to balance things out and allows this movie to feel different to some degree.
The majority of the changes come from our heroes being in a new setting. Instead of being in the jungle, the crew has moved to new locations like a vast desert and snowy mountains. By simply doing this, it’s easier to give these characters some different challenges to face. And of course, by extension, this gives the viewers an opportunity to find value in new ways.
Another way things are altered is by taking the characters in Jumanji’s version of the real world and putting them in different characters from the video game they get sucked into. The new feel was obvious from this, but I don’t think the matches always work as well this time around.
I guess these next two paragraphs could be seen as a bit of a spoiler, so you may want to skip them. Anyway, Jack Black is now portraying his version of a young Black guy. This doesn’t go as well as the character he exclusively played with the traits of a young White girl in the first film. That’s not to say he’s bad here, but I do think that he maybe plays it a little too safe.
It’s a sensitive area to touch on for obvious reasons, so I can understand if they wanted to avoid going too far with what he could do. But what if he wasn’t playing too safe? I guess there’s a possibility that he just wasn’t able to deliver in a similar fashion. That happens to actors all the time, so who knows. Not everyone can play every role.
When it was all coming to a close, I started to think about how this could have worked even better if some characters got to switch bodies with others. They tease that a bit and made me think about that even more. As I thought about that, I started to think about how different this could have been. In my opinion, I think it could have improved certain things.
Joining the characters from the previous film, we have some new ones as well. Whether they’re in Jumanji’s real world or its video game world, these guys come in and elevate the movie as a whole. They’re mostly used to work within the film’s comedic parameters, but they’re also here to add a bit of heart when it’s necessary.
And for those of you wondering, the villain is still handled the same way although it’s a different guy. Based on what they’re trying to do, they didn’t really need him that much here either. Similar to how they used the bad guy in Welcome to the Jungle, he’s basically just here because he has to be. Ultimately, I doubt too many will care. Like the other antagonist, when he’s not on-screen, you won’t miss him.
The best thing about Jumanji: The Next Level is that everyone has some fun here. That goes for the viewers and by the looks of things, that goes for the cast as well. I knew they couldn’t go back and use the same things they did the first time and be successful. The main message behind that was about life lessons for teenagers. They learned a lot, so it would be hard to go completely back to that again.
In order to avoid simply being another generic sequel, they had to go in a few different directions. They decided to do that with this portion of the film and made it work. It’s not as big of a focal point this time around, but that’s not an issue. You’ll understand when you watch it for yourself.
With the old and the new being successfully mixed together, we’re presented with something that gives you plenty of reasons to watch. Is The Next Level as good as its predecessor? No, but it gets close at times and will most likely provide you with legitimate entertainment. And based purely on that and the effort that was put into it, I’d gladly watch a third film with these characters.
Director: Jake Kasdan
Film Length: 123 minutes
Release Date: December 13, 2019
Distributor: Universal Pictures
- Score - 7.5/107.5/10