'Jumanji: The Next Level' review - more of the same

Competently made and generally well-acted, the film is a very self-secure entry in the franchise

A still from Jumanji: The Next Level.

Director: Jake Kasdan
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillian, Kevin Hart, Jack Black
Score: 3/5

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, to say the least, was a surprisingly faithful continuation of the Robin Williams classic, Jumanji. It featured a very unique take, reversing the video-game movie genre into a movie video-game, had quirky characters and a solid foot in the adventure game thought process, albeit with the villain issue. Jumanji: The Next Level is, for the lack of a better phrase, really just more of the same.

And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it does disappoint a little bit to know that the core elements of the previous film have made it here practically unchanged despite many changes to the overall design of Jumanji itself here.

The primary changes you see here are the changes in characters. Spence Giplin has disappeared inside Jumanji, and while his friends Fridge, Bethany and Martha head in to find Spencer, they find that his grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) is now Dr Bravestone, with his friend Milo Walker (Danny Glover) becoming Finbar. At the core, this switching of characters and the addition of some new ones is really the only change this Jumanji has, apart from the environments and some dangers.

The characters mostly share the same traits that they did in the previous Jumanji, with a few minor changes here and there. And although their skills do add to the immersion and ingenuity of the game, they’re usually treated as gimmicks rather than actual usable tools – with the exception of just one skill belonging to Finbar.

Jumanji’s villain this time around is not much better, either. Jurgen the Brutal, played by the towering Rory McCann (Game of Thrones’ 'The Hound'), is really not that brutal. He does have a solid introduction where he casually burns down a village for loot, but as far as final bosses go, he’s really not threatening. Maybe it’s just a side effect of the original Van Pelt being so very powerful and well-written, but none of the other villains so far in this series have done anything to leave a mark.

The characters, thankfully, retain their sense of self-awareness, especially in the case of Eddie and Milo, who, being totally new to the game, are constantly put into situations that would make any sane person hold their sides in laughter.

Jumanji’s action elements are well-used, with a few really tense moments here and there – particularly on a section involving mandrills, but it does have a sense of being too easy at times.

Overall, Jumanji: The Next Level is something akin to a video game that has become comfortable in its skin and is rarely willing to break out of it. The closest comparison to actual video games here would be Call of Duty, though it is a completely different genre from Jumanji. There’s potential to be found here, but not all of it is exploited in a meaningful way, leaving just a little bit of a dry taste at the finish. It’s not incompetent - quite the opposite - it’s just unwilling to be more.

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