The game is afoot, but it’s not the format its players know. Destroyed at the end of the last adventure (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, 2017) and reassembled by Spencer (Alex Wolff) in this sequel, the immersive video game’s hardware is now glitchy.
After swearing off Jumanji, the dangerous and unpredictable video game, a group of four teenagers return to its treacherous terrain when Spencer decides to mend a broken heart by going back into the game-world.
The remaining three friends also get back into Jumanji’s mercurial world to save Spencer. But this time Martha (Morgan Turner), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) are joined by two senior citizens—Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his estranged friend Milo (Danny Glover)—in trying to get back a life-saving stone usurped by Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann).
Characters swap bodies (initially Fridge is Jack Black, who is Professor Shelly Oberon before Bethany goes back to being Oberon) which might be confusing if you haven’t seen—or don’t remember—the original film. But ultimately that doesn’t matter because this, like its prequel, is a non-stop action film with witty one-liners and goofy expressions. As Dr. Bravestone, Johnson channels DeVito and mocks his own “smouldering looks" while Hart brings in the right amount of humour with his take as the slow-speaking Milo whose in-game avatar is that of a zoologist. A character addition is that of Ming the cat burglar, played by Awkwafina.
Avatars are swapped and the players must come to terms with their strengths and weaknesses. Yes, there’s an unsubtle message in their about hiding behind assumed identities and coming to terms with one’s true self.
Director Jake Kasdan directs the special effects-dominated action comedy which features raging ostriches running wild in the desert, aggressive mandrills (which Milo explains are different to baboons) attacking unprovoked and a Zeppelin that becomes the villain’s choice of escape vehicle. All this as the intrepid group of adventurers tries to finish the game before losing their three lives in order to get back to their real world.
Hart and Johnson slip into their roles (and reversed roles) easily as their chemistry forms the heart of Jumanji: The Next Level. Their energy is as much the highlight as the DeVito-Freeman bickering. Karen Gillian (as Ruby), Black and Nick Jonas (the only actor who returns to his original character) fill in the blanks adequately in a film that’s breezy, but not ‘unmissable’.
The ending disappoints a bit with its easy resolution, but then Jumanji is not meant to keep you on the edge of your seat: it’s just a game after all.