Review by C.J. Bunce
In brief, it’s the best adventure, fantasy, and comedy in theaters in 2019 and a great way to begin your new year. Jumanji: The Next Level is still packing-in theaters a little more than two weeks into its run–an alternative to the other holiday releases and guaranteed to leave you smiling at the end. The four stars didn’t miss a beat in their return, swapping roles and adding new laughs, and the new characters inside and outside the game are perfectly matched to tell a new tale. Two films down and Jumanji: The Next Level is now the new major adventure fantasy franchise, up there with Tarzan, The Jungle Book, Conan the Barbarian, John Carter of Mars, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Mummy, and Indiana Jones. Put this sequel at the top of the best of those franchises.
The studio didn’t hold back on new action sequences–inside the movie again Jumanji is the same video game of curious origin. The new levels introduced this time increase the stakes in bigger and better ways. A bridge-crossing scene with swarming apes and a geometric, Mario Brothers/Donkey Kong-like element is now going to be the adventure film standard to try to beat. Sure, there are throwbacks to jungle adventures of the past, but it’s not derivative, all presented in fresh ways. As another tour inside a video game (like Tron and Ready Player One), you’ll have the added fun of spotting video game influences (like Pitfall and Q-Bert), including a new, more difficult gauntlet.
The movie does double duty as an epic quest and rollicking comedy. Comedians turned comedic actors Jack Black as Dr. Shelly Oberon and Kevin Hart as Mouse Finbar again are comedy gold. Even the small bits are a scream–Hart riding and getting off a camel is a lesson in physical comedy. They make the movie loads of fun, but straight man roles performed by Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan as in-game characters Dr. Smolder Bravestone and Ruby Roundhouse share the credit for the laughs, too. If you’ve seen Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, you’d expect big comedy from the sequel. And that’s where the writing genius comes into play, thanks to a script by writer/director Jake Kasdan and writers Jeff Pinkner, and Scott Rosenberg. How do you bring back the hour movie stars, the four young actors who played the original players (Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner, Alex Wolff, and Ser’Darius Blain), the rescued Alex played by Colin Hanks, and in-game characters played by Nick Jonas, and Rhys Darby without re-hashing the first movie? You’ll have to see it to find out. Just be prepared for some great twists and surprises.
Joining the former cast of players and characters are veterans to film and screen Danny DeVito and Danny Glover, plus Awkwafina, who fits right in with the comedy relief. Every in-game actor gets several opportunities to demonstrate their range and bring out their tool boxes of accents.
The only thing that might keep people from seeing it in theaters is that Jumanji: The Next Level is a sequel. Sequels don’t always get taken seriously because they often are only a slight reflection of what made the first film good. Don’t worry about that here. Ten minutes in and you’ll be holding onto your seat.
It would be a mistake to miss this in the theaters, as it has all the quick-paced action of the original Indiana Jones adventure, Raiders of the Lost Ark, long considered the film to beat at the top of the genre. With adventure scenes bigger and better than the adventure movies that have come before, director Jake Kasdan made a sequel as good as the original, and queues up the franchise for a potentially gigantic future.
Highly recommended, Jumanji: The Next Level is in theaters now.