Jumanji: The Next Level is the latest in what is now a franchise, centring on a game which has the capacity to change its players’ lives. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson returns with his band of computer game characters to save Jumanji. But sadly The Next Level does not lean on the best elements of the first film – leaving fans wanting more.
**Warning – some Jumani: The Next Level spoilers ahead
Jumanji: The Next Level brings fans back to where the first film ended – only a few years have passed.
The four teenagers who found themselves while playing a video game, ironically as completely new characters, have now gone off to college having been changed by the game.
One of those teenagers, however, has struggled ever since and is still in dire need of a boost.
Spencer (played by Alex Wolff) heads home for the holidays and spends time with his grandpa, Eddie (Danny DeVito,) while trying to avoid seeing his old Jumanji colleagues again.
Jumanji: The Next Level review
The prospect of seeing them again is made worse by the fact he has broken up with Martha (Morgan Turner) with whom he connected in the game.
As Martha, Bethany (Madison Iseman) and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) meet up, Spencer’s absence is conspicuous and on heading over to see him, they find he had re-entered the game, which is still broken from their attempt to destroy it.
The game’s brokenness means they are sucked back in, along with Eddie and his feuding friend Milo (Danny Glover.)
From here we are back to where we are comfortable, seeing Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson battling to save Jumanji as the avatars of their teenage players.
However, this is sadly where the film falls down compared to its predecessor: the teenagers are not as we thought.
In this film, there is a whole lot of switching avatars, meaning old man Eddie has gone into the body of Dr Smolder Bravestone (Johnson) and Milo has entered the body of Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart.)
To add to this, Jack Black’s Dr Shelly Oberon is now inhabited by Fridge, while Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan) remains as the kick-ass Martha.
While the mix-up of characters is a good idea in theory, the film here relies on the comedy prowess of Johnson and Hart to carry it, with Black’s character now effectively the “straight man” to Gillan’s sensible girl.
The cast of Jumanji: The Next Level
While Hart does well in playing a young, slightly confused version of Danny Glover, Johnson’s character is given the best jokes, the best stories and ultimately, the most airtime.
Needless to say, Johnson is an incredibly bankable star who has great comic timing.
However, Jack Black taking on the character of Bethany, a self-centred princess who speaks like the Instagram generation from which she comes was the highlight of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
Jumanji: The Next Level makes the mistake of allowing The Rock and Hart to be the focal point, meaning those who offer some of the best comedy chops in the business are sidelined.
Spencer and Eddie in Jumanji: The Next Level
Bethany’s character is not even included in the game until a later point, where she enlists the help of Alex (played by Nick Jonas in the game and Colin Hanks in the real world) to fix things.
Sadly, she ends up in a horse, meaning she barely gets to do anything here either.
Luckily, the makers of the film see the need to return things to a familiar setting, but frankly it has been almost three quarters of the film until the jokes finally land in the way they should.
Awkwafina’s Ming (who is being played by Spencer) is enjoyable, but it is not until she becomes Eddie that she really gets the chance to play – and her part is all the better for the change.
Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart in Jumanji: The Next Level
Ultimately, the film makes the mistake of thinking it is the comedic power of The Rock which drives it forward, when actually his character is best placed as the leading man who is forced to take the reigns despite actually being a frightened, teenage boy.
In the final quarter of the film the laughs are constant, Black is back to where he should be and things move in the way they should have for the previous hour and a half, and those of us who have been huge fans of this franchise since the original and its reboot breathed a sigh of relief.
Hopefully when the inevitable Part Three comes out, the filmmakers will have learned their lesson.
Jumanji: The Next Level is out in cinemas on December 13