Is it fair to say that we’ve grown a little weary of the reboot? It feels like every year Hollywood tries and fails to resurrect a nostalgic favorite, so imagine everyone’s surprise when 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a hit! Two years later we have the sequel, JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL, and against all odds, it seems that lightning actually can strike twice!

In JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL our heroes are back but the game has changed. In a journey to rescue one of their own, the players will have to face new challenges in the changing landscape of the game. The stakes are high, the territory unfamiliar, and the fate of their friend and Jumanji is in their hands. 

Director Jake Kasden returns to the Jumanji franchise, after the success of the first film, and much of the all-star cast has returned as well. Our core heroes Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Nick Jonas, and Kevin Hart are back, along with their real-world counterparts from the first film (including Hereditary’s Alex Wolff). Comedy favorites Danny DeVito, Awkwafina, and Game of Thrones’ Rory McCann make up the “next level” of the cast and it’s just as much fun as you’d expect.

Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, and Karen Gillan in JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL

The natural concern with a sequel like this one is the same as with any quickly completed follow-up film, “Does the studio actually understand why the first one was a hit and did they keep that in mind?” With respect to JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL, the answer is a resounding “YES!” This film is a great time. It’s a ton of fun. 

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL understands exactly what resonated with audiences, in the first film, and it brings that exact brand of humor back. Every beat that worked in Welcome to the Jungle is present and accounted for here and, in most cases, improved on. Despite the first film having a neatly tied up finish, the circumstances that return us to the world of Jumanji do make sense and offer natural opportunities for character growth. It’s nice to see that Jumanji still has lessons to teach and that audiences get to enjoy a fun ride that still has heart. 

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL successfully puts a fresh and inventive spin on what it accomplished in Welcome to the Jungle by exploring various video game tropes and elements in greater detail. From avatar switching to gags with Non-Player Characters, and hilarious reactions to cut scenes, THE NEXT LEVEL manages to keep the dynamics of the game familiar but still surprising. 

Jack Black and Karen Gillan in JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL | Photo by Frank Masi – Sony Pictures Entertainment

Of course, the cornerstone of the Jumanji franchise is the hilarious performances of the “avatar” cast. Especially in JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL. Compliments to the cast for their range and the ability to jump between several characters at a moment’s notice. It was a joy to see each character get to try something new, without having to totally give up on the “versions” of our characters that we loved in the first film. Storytelling balance achieved through great performances. Well done. 

All of that being said, JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL is flawed. At times it’s corny (and not in a cute way) and just feels more shallow than the first, somehow. This may be a naturally cynical view for a sequel, but still. The fatal flaw of JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL – which may not even be a flaw, depending on where you sit – is that the film relies very heavily on the viewer’s knowledge and enthusiasm for the previous film. 

The first Jumanji is a looming presence in THE NEXT LEVEL. As we mentioned previously, sometimes this is a good thing like with the humor and expectations. But it could also very well be the film’s detriment. THE NEXT LEVEL features a lot of inside jokes and references and characters that are not introduced, so much as you just need to remember them. This limits THE NEXT LEVEL in that it makes the film completely inaccessible to anyone who didn’t see the first. Risky.

Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, and Awkwafina in JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL | Photo by Frank Masi – Sony Pictures Entertainment

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL ends on a very obvious set up for a trilogy and this critic has to ask… Should we push our luck? Lightning struck twice and that’s amazing and, so far, Jumanji is conquering the odds. But how long before the luck runs out…

As cryptic as that all may sound, none of that takes away from the fact that JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL is as much fun as you could want! It solidifies the strength of the franchise and is made for the fans. You can’t fault it for that! Any anxiety around the film only comes from the fact that Jumanji deserves to succeed. I hope you’re ready for THE NEXT LEVEL, because you won’t want to miss it!

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL opens everywhere on December 13!

Caitlin Kennedy
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