Jumanji: The Next Level confidently advances onto the next stage whilst recycling the same gameplay mechanics. Much like in a video game, a sequel retains the same core components that provides the intellectual property with unique qualities whilst implementing an aesthetic makeover to provide a new world to explore. Whether that be a graphical enhancement or a re-designed open playable world for the player to explore. The very definition of a role-playing game. ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, the first instalment of the rebooted franchise, asserted the base gameplay functions of uncovering the mystery of the world by linearly heading from point A to point B to point C etc. whilst employing character-based comedy to keep the adventure feeling fresh. Surprisingly self-aware and joyously buoyant throughout.
Kasdan’s adventurous sequel follows the same rules as a video game continuation. It’s bigger, it’s better, and it’s more of the same. Set three years after the now four best friends survived the first adventure, Spencer, consumed by his comparatively dull adolescence, returns to Jumanji where he felt he had substantial purpose as an individual. His friends, worried after not showing up to a friendly reunion, suddenly hear the beat of jungle drums, realising that Spencer has activated Jumanji once more. Only this time, “Fridge” and Martha are taken leaving Bethany in reality. Resulting in Spencer’s grandfather and long-time business partner Milo being transported to the fictitious world instead as Dr. Bravestone and Finbar respectively. Naturally, the older generation attempting to understand the mechanics of a video game (NPCs, three lives, strengths and weaknesses etc.) creates an unadorned amount of comedy that equally diminishes the character of Roundhouse to nothing more than expositional tutorials.
Much of the laughter is expelled at the sights of Johnson and Hart mildly impersonating DeVito and Glover. Whilst the latter has the slow tempo down perfectly, the former is the least “The Rock” we’ve seen him as since, well, ever. Watching him attempt the New Jersey/New York accent was mildly hilarious to say the least. This sequel really revolves around these two characters, whom share a jaded past that seeks reconciliation. Unlike the “Jaguar’s Eye”, they are the true heart of Jumanji. Adequate development to make their differences affecting, without relinquishing much of the humour. Their new strengths and weaknesses, including communicating with animals and Bravestone acquiring just one weakness that was admittedly vastly underdeveloped, appropriately utilised to produce a change of pace when comparing to its predecessor. And, above all else, funnier than their initial appearance. Spencer controls a new avatar, played by the dominating Awkwafina, who really asserts her presence amongst the pre-existing avatars. Oberon, with Black on cruise control, mostly assists with the exposition while indicating his weakness to desert characteristics.
Speaking of arid horizons, the jungle has been substituted for the desolation of heat, a dense woodland environment and snow-capped mountain, as the team attempt to reclaim the “Falcon Jewel” from warlord Jurgen the Brutal in order to save Jumanji and return to reality. The same criticisms from the first film apply here. The narrative is ridiculously linear and mundanely straightforward that, half the time, the screenplay itself forgets what the main objective is. The feature works best when divulging in exciting character-based set pieces, to which Kasdan acknowledges this by throwing the core contents of the plot to the side for the vast majority of the adventure. It’s the exact same premise, just a different location. Kasdan also moderately relies on humour setup in the previous entry, such as Roundhouse fighting villainous NPCs through the medium of rhythmic combat to the tune of “Baby I Love Your Way” (ooof such a tune!), which also heightens the sense of over-familiarity. Although, Hart shouting “No!” to cake ensured many howls! The villain, Jurgen, much like Professor Van Pelt (remember him? Me neither!) was instantly forgettable and provided minimal menace. The visual effects were noticeably digital, particularly the backdrops, however closeups of ostriches and mandrills certainly harnessed attentive detail.
One could argue that the digitised gimmicks and hokey plot conveniences are all part of the game world, and they would be correct. Kasdan once again provides fantastic family entertainment that relishes in bold characterised set pieces, albeit with another less than substantial plot. Employing the exact same formula that made its predecessor a financial success, with a few avatar changes here and there. Granting profitable amounts of replay value in the process.