While 2017’s Jumanji reboot welcomed us to the jungle, its sequel succeeds in taking us to The Next Level.
The set up is broadly the same; Jumanji is in grave danger and only the actions of Smoulder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) and crew can save it. Though wonderfully grounded with the chemistry of the original four, it’s the new additions which allow the film to hit new heights.
The film begins with the four high school friends cast far and wide. Bethany (Madison Iseman) is holidaying in exotic climes, ‘Fridge’ (Ser’Darius Blain) has seemingly been locked in the gym since the last film, while Martha (Morgan Turner) and Spencer (Alex Wolff) are both back from college. The latter hasn’t exactly been revelling life in The Big Apple and it’s this crisis of confidence which causes him to dive back into the world of Jumanji. Fast forward and the gang are back to save the world, though this time they’re joined by crotchety Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his polar opposite Milo Walker (Danny Glover).
The introduction of DeVito and Glover is the best place to start because they are singularly excellent, both through their warm performances and as the basis of some sensational mimicry. At the centre of Welcome to the Jungle was the body swap comedy of seeing Jack Black ‘playing’’ a teenage girl, or Dwayne Johnson ‘playing’ a timid teen, and The Next Level bangs a similar comedic drum.
This time around, however, the plaudits have to go to Kevin Hart, who is nothing short of hilarious when mimicking Glover. His slow, lilting speech is coupled with a trademark old-man shuffle, and it fills the first forty minutes in particular with laugh after laugh. This is also true of Johnson, who pulls off the acerbic, terse DeVito with just the right amount of ‘eh’s.
Elsewhere, we have the introduction of Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina) who brilliantly comes to life when tasked with aping a member of the gang, while there is also a suitably villainous turn from Rory McCann.Though The Next Level doesn’t really take many narrative risks, it doesn’t really need to. With a cast list packed with stars and a sharp script by writer-director Jake Kasdan, it makes the most of its ensemble’s chemistry.
Of course, it isn’t flawless. Though there are some clever action bits (hello again to Karen Gillan’s excellent dance fighting) other set pieces feel ever-so-slightly CGI soupy. McCann’s villain has no discernible dimensions beyond just wanting Jumanji to wither and the character arcs are fairly indistinguishable from the previous film, but in truth that only comes to mind when you’re trying to find valid criticism as part of a film review. When you’re in the room, it doesn’t cross your mind.
Instead, you find yourself buckled into a ride with a franchise which seems particularly high in confidence. One which, due to the presence of snow, is undeniably, categorically and scientifically the best Christmas movie since Die Hard.