It's hard not to feel the warmth of nostalgia when hearing Jumanji's iconic African drum beat in The Next Level. I was five when the first original movie, starring Robin Williams and Kirsten Dunst, was released. Although I didn't watch it in the cinema, the bootleg VHS copy we had at home weathered at least three dozen watches.
The first Jumanji still has a fond place in my memory. The movie has stood the test of time. Even after all these years, I still hold my breath as the die is cast and the game sends mischievous monkeys, carnivorous vines and a stampede of rhinos to test the players' mettle. And who can forget the unfortunate plight Alan Parish finds himself in as he is sucked into the game for 26 years, returning to find his family dead and the life he had been withheld from well and gone.
The newest instalment of the franchise shares little with the original film besides the name. Is it fun to watch? Sure. Is it funny? Sometimes. Does it live up to the reputation of the original? Not by a long shot. In fact, once the players shout out "Jumanji", effectively beating the game, you're probably going to be glad that it's over.
Jumanji: The Next Level is a direct sequel to its 2017 predecessor. Spencer (Alex Wolff) repairs the Jumanji video game in the basement of his grandfather Eddie's (Danny DeVito) house. His melancholy resulting from the recent break-up with his girlfriend Martha (Morgan Turner), who moved away for college, leads him to dive back into the game. There, he hopes he can again take on the alpha-male avatar of Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson).
When Martha and their friends, Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain) and Bethany (Madison Iseman), find Spencer missing, they decide to re-enter Jumanji to save him. Spencer's grandfather Eddie and friend Milo (Danny Glover) inadvertently get sucked into the game. This time around the players are not given a choice to select their avatars. Eddie takes the role of Dr Bravestone, while Milo takes up the character of Franklin "Mouse" Finbar (Kevin Hart). Fridge, who previously took on Mouse's avatar, is this time cast as Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon (Jack Black). Martha is the only one who reprises her character Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan).
In Jumanji, the crew find themselves facing a new challenge: Jurgen the Brutal, played by Rory McCann – who is most famous for playing the Hound on Game of Thrones – has stolen a magical jewel that controls Jumanji. It is up to the players to reclaim the jewels and save the world of Jumanji.
Even with a new challenge, and the avatars’ added strengths and weaknesses, the stakes of the plot seem lacking. Yet, it’s not all a bore. The movie coasts on the odd-coupling of Johnson and Hart. Along with Black, they squeeze out more than a handful of laughs, especially when you envision DeVito and Glover trapped in the avatars.
The first Jumanji: Welcome to The Jungle, came as a surprise. Audiences were getting to know the new rules of the game, and there was still a lot going on to keep us guessing as to what would happen. It was a nice tribute to the original, while still managing to be fresh and funny. This time around, there is not much to surprise viewers. Sure, we get a shimmering green pool that lets players swap avatars, which may force out a few chuckles. Don't bank on my word, though; an audience member beside me at the cinema was chortling out his popcorn at the scene.
The Next Level probably won't disappoint viewers who wouldn't mind a rehashed version of Welcome to the Jungle. While I suppose an if-it's-not-broke-don't-fix-it mindset could be applied to the script, the new Jumanji feels too much like a recycled family-friendly comedy with little to no novelty to give it more than a two-star rating.