Two years ago, The Last Jedi was poised to destroy the box office. And just before that, someone snuck in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. It went on to make nearly a billion dollars, which didn’t threaten Star Wars, of course, but it did manage to make that bank while showing opposite of it. Needless to say, it was a surprise hit, and only the second movie I ever reviewed on this blog.
And we’re back with a sequel, again positioned right in front of a huge Star Wars release. Does this one have the same magic as the first (er, second) Jumanji film? Honestly, no, but it did carry over most of the charm and that makes it worth a watch.
The movie is, at its heart, just more of the same. Video game pulls kids in, adult actors get to play against type, hilarity ensues, people die to things like cake, roll credits. They innovate by swapping characters around and adding Danny DeVito and Danny Glover to the mix of potential players. There are also two new “playable characters” this time, but I won’t spoil it by telling you who or what they are.
Though not as surprisingly delightful as the first, this movie does offer legitimate laughs. The Rock gets to do a Danny DeVito impression (quite unevenly) and Kevin Hart gets to be Danny Glover (impressively). Jack Black gets to be Fridge from the first movie, which at times he nails and others he doesn’t. It’s far from the impressive turn he did as Bethany in the first film, but it’s still hilarious. Karen Gillan is still Martha, but I don’t know if that’s because the filmmakers didn’t trust her to impersonate somebody, or because they didn’t want to weird people out by having the hot girl play a dude. I would have welcomed the latter, and I think Gillan has the chops for it.
There’s a plot involving a gem and a horde of viking-like northmen, led by Rory McCann who played The Hound in Game of Thrones. He basically plays the same role here with more hair and less burn scars. At 6’6″, he’s one of the few actors that can look imposing standing next to Dwayne Johnson.
And then the jewel of the whole movie — really the jewel of every movie she’s in — is Awkwafina. She doesn’t show up until about halfway through the film, but she is wonderful from the first second she shows up on screen. Her impressions are spot on, and she lands pretty much every joke she’s given. Keep an eye on her folks, because I think this lady is going places!
There are also action set pieces, animals, and jungles. And there’s a subplot about the two old men that is surprisingly touching considering it plays out mostly through impressions of those two old men. There’s least one clever action scene involving a bunch of Mandrills (not baboons!!!!). It’s all good enough to sail the movie through its runtime, but the true heart of the movie lies in its actors and its laughs.
There are less movies to watch this time of year, and it’s hard to find a good action comedy. You can’t go wrong with Jumanji: The Next Level. It’s not an upgrade over its predecessor, but it’s a passable imitation that’ll leave you smiling.
Should you watch it? If you liked the last one, certainly
Should you take your kids? It’s pretty kid-friendly (though there is a prolonged eunuch joke), but some of the action scenes may be frightening for very small children
What you should watch first: Jumanji: Welcome the Jungle at the very least, and 1995’s Jumanji if you’re ambitious