Jumanji: The Next Level (2019) is a sequel to the hit Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle in 2017 and a continuation of the same story. Directed once again by Jake Kasdan, the original cast including Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart and Jack Black all return, with the new additions including Awkwafina and Danny DeVito. When Spencer (played by Alex Wolff) decides to re-enter the game of Jumanji, it is up to his friends and family to re-enter and save him from dying in the game for good.
What makes this film work as a sequel is the narrative. I was unsure how they were going to write in the fact that the same characters have to go back into the busted game, but I actually think they found a good story to match with their requirements. Not only did the themes of the film go on a deeper level in this film, but it also helped flesh out the characters and not just their game avatars this time round. It made the story more believable, and the stakes actually felt higher this time because there was more development of the characters.
What matters in a sequel to a film is the additions made to make the sequel feel relevant. Whilst the basic story may feel similar in its pacing and narrative, I actually found enough new content to not make it feel repetitive at all. I like how this film goes on a different journey in the world of Jumanji and how even the avatars’ stats have changed to adapt to the new journey. It made watching those scenes feel refreshing and continuous to the overall tone of the franchise, rather than simply repeating moments that worked from the first film.
The new cast fit in easily with the returning group, yet also add a new level of humour and fun to the story. Awkwafina is slowly becoming one of the best actresses working to date, picking very different yet intriguing roles and becoming a much bigger part of this film than I expected. Danny DeVito is just himself in here, which is exactly what you need in a film like this. The other actors do a fantastic job in playing Danny DeVito in the game, which makes for some nice comedic moments for sure.
The scale of this film has clearly gotten bigger after the success of Welcome to the Jungle, and that only helps explore even more of the world of Jumanji. The fantasy elements are still the strongest here, but I appreciate how this film balances several game genres including action, RPG and survival. This franchise does a really good job at adding other elements that can be seen in video-games and blending them in, creating a real-world experience of these mechanisms.
Whilst a major focus with this film was to blend in the real world and the game world, I actually found less development done with the game world sequences. Yes, the stakes are higher and the scale is larger, but the story itself is actually quite forgettable. Whilst I cared about the quest in the first film, this just felt rushed, as if the characters did not care about playing the game or caring about the journey. The journey itself is filled with action sequences and subplots that never have a full impact unless they are important to the real-world characters.
The character of Alex, played by Colin Hanks, has always been one of the more intriguing characters in this franchise for me. However, in this film, he seems to be sidelined just as a way to get his avatar (played by Nick Jonas) back on the screen. He has one moment explaining why he is joining them, and it is a good moment that I would have liked to have been expanded on, and then he simply feels pushed to the side to focus on the main group. It could have been a well-developed storyline and added an extra layer to the film.
I may have had worries about this film feeling repetitive from the first of this reiteration, and there are some moments that do feel that way, but overall I found this sequel to be quite refreshing. There is enough new content to enjoy, all the new characters are fantastic and the reason and story of this sequel actually make sense. This is a fun time at the cinema for all audiences and a great alternative for the holiday season if you are one of those people who do not care for Star Wars.
Have you had a chance to check out Jumanji: The Next Level yet? Did it have enough new content for you, or did it fall short from the first film? Let me know in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.