By Steven Redgrave
* Warning: Potential Spoilers*
Feeling that something is missing in his life, Spencer (Alex Wolff) restarts in Jumanji. When his friends Bethany (Madison Iseman), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), and Martha (Morgan Turner) discover the game console has been rebuilt, they go after him, starting another new adventure in Jumanji, but this time around they unknowingly bring some additional help from Eddie (Danny Devito) and Milo (Danny Glover).
Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Jake Black, and Nick Jonas all return to reprise their roles of the playable avatars within Jumanji, along with the addition of Awkwafina as an avatar named Ming Fleetfoot, a thief with her own set of skills and Rory McCann as the new villain of the film, Jurgen The Brutal. His name seems to say it all.
Jumanji: The Next Level (2019) is directed by Jake Kasdan, returning after directing Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (2017), but this time around he also wrote the script and as the title states, takes this film to the “next level”.
Kasdan introduced this body swapping element which allowed the cast to play with a range of personalities and add more fun and humour to the film.
Karen Gillan and Jack Black discover this mechanic and creatively express their distress and frustrations with the lack of control of the situation. After swapping roles, they do a convincing exchange that will have the viewer believing they are those specific characters.
Johnson and Hart, once again provide comedy gold as they banter, but this time playing the characters of Eddie and Milo, initially played by Devito and Glover. Johnson with his stubborn old man attitude and Hart with an inability to “get to the point” when talking, both embody the characters and actors they portray with charisma and charm, no matter how weird it feels to see. Johnson looked to be having a lot of fun with his departure from his typical upbeat personality and this new look did not disappoint. Hart, in particular, absolutely played his part perfectly. He defined the impression of a positive minded old man, ready for an adventure. He could have spoken the entire film without it getting stale.These two interacting with their very much polar opposite personalities continued to keep things lively.
Awkwafina, while not as large of a role, was a surprise and definite standout character for the franchise. Her stand-up persona meshes well within the tone of this film and effectively molds to the characters that her avatar are meant to be. She quickly establishes herself as a comedy contender with her fellow veteran cast members.
The entire cast had wonderful chemistry among each other. The humorous character interactions and banter continue from the last film, but this time the cast takes the dynamics we all loved and shifts it around for a fresh take.
Modified character traits were also introduced for the avatars, which added for comedy and plot points needed for characters. Traits existed before, but now weakness and strengths have been added to throw these characters off. Some characters had many weaknesses like weather conditions and were played to be completely useless for comedic value, while others had an added specific weakness that moved the plot along or creative concern for a character’s welfare. It was a nice addition to provide the characters with new hurdles and challenges to overcome.
While Jumanji did contribute plenty of new elements to keep it feeling new, it did have some issues. The plot was simple and unfortunately lackluster and felt like it was secondary to the characters interacting. The main villain, specifically, has a very minor role and really has no fleshed out motives for doing what he does, other than he’s the bad guy. Perhaps this is a play on cheesy retro games having loosely connected narratives to string the levels together, but when an actor such as Rory McCann is cast, he should be used for those abilities. We know he can play the brute warrior, but he can also act and give emotion to that character, which was never really an option with such a thinly painted antagonist.
Of course, this film has an overlining message for the audience, as most modern films tend to. The message, while isn’t necessarily unique, does cement itself as an important one for young individuals growing and learning who they are in the world. It is heartfelt and works well to tie up the film.
Jumanji is a fun sequel adding more laughs, action, and character dynamics that expand on the world, highlighting the creative potential this franchise has to grow.