Monday 16 December 2019

Film Review: Jumanji – The Next Level

The gang is back and the game has changed in Jumanji: The Next Level.

Something of a sleeper hit two years ago, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle revived a beloved Robin Williams family adventure film and retooled it for a new generation. 

With bankable stars – Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black – and a cool new angle, which saw the spooky board game from the original film swapped for a dusty videogame cartridge – Welcome to the Jungle evoked the same kind of boisterous adventure that multiplexes have been lacking since National Treasure films or Stephen Sommers’ Mummy movies. Plus, like these films and the games that inspired it, the Jumanji reboot had huge replay value too.

Now director Jake Kasdan is loading up his last save for a second playthrough in Jumanji: The Next Level, a sequel that takes everything audiences enjoyed about the first film and…doing them again. If there’s one criticism that can be levelled at The Next Level, it’s that this time around the ‘gimmick’ has lost some of its lustre. What was once fresh is now just more of the same. For example, Black’s vacuous teenage girl routine is still a hoot, but here it’s an encore, not a new take.

The new ingredients that are added to the mix – from Danny DeVito and Danny Glover to Awkwafina – are fun, but a same-same plot (brave the elements, find the jewel, save Jumanji) weighs the film down. The new exotics locales – arid deserts, snowy mountains – are little more than cosmetic changes to disguise from the familiar plot, like a new videogame that plays the same as its predecessor.

That said, all these complaints fade away somewhat when the film hits its stride and the insatiable chemistry of the actors comes to the fore. Johnson, Black, Hart and in particular Karen Gillan are just fun to hang out with, and another two-and-a-bit hours where they bounce off one another is worth your ticket price alone.

That Kasdan and crew stage a series of fast-paced action set pieces and keep the energy up throughout is another factor in The Next Level’s favour – the film just flies by. Gillan takes more of a leading role this time around, and makes a compelling case for her own headline act in the future by outplaying the likes of Johnson and Hart at their own game.

Much of Welcome to the Jungle’s appeal stemmed from the goofy videogame bodyswap humour, which saw four gawky teens inhabit avatars of Jumanji characters – Johnson’s rippled hero Smoulder Bravestone, Gillan’s karate commando Ruby Roundhouse, and so on. With the game now malfunctioning, The Next Level remixes the bodyswap formula by having its characters plonked with different avatars, resulting in Johnson spending the better part of two hours doing a silly DeVito impression. 

The Verdict: 6/10

Fun while it lasts, Jumanji: The Next Level is solid school holiday fare that families will lap up this Boxing Day and beyond. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in swashbuckling shenanigans. 

Jumanji: The Next Level is in cinemas across Australia from Boxing Day, with advance screenings on Christmas Day.

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