I am one of the many fans of the 2017 release of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, not because it is a humorous Jumanji remake but because of its avid devotion to video game nostalgia and the bulky, plastic console that comes with it.
The premise is simple and genius: Four high school teenagers get sucked into a Jumanji video game cartridge (which used to be a boardgame in the ’95 version with Robin Williams) and not only have to communicate with and battle against non-playable characters (NPCs), they have to come to terms with their own, computer-given avatar (a graphic illustration that represents the computer user). The avatar strengths and weaknesses discoveries are the best part of the movie, and, thankfully, Jumanji: The Next Level continues to mess with its characters and the audience.
In Welcome to the Jungle, the skinny nerd is granted the smoldering, ripped Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson), the 6’ 4” football jock gets the 5’ 4” zoologist and bagman (Kevin Hart), the studious girl becomes martial arts commando, Ruby Roundhouse, and the self-indulgent queen bee is thrown into the stubby, plump body of Jack Black, who plays a cryptographer. (It goes without saying that Jack Black’s performance as a bratty teenage girl is the hit of the movie.)
Because it’s a sequel, “The Next Level” has more liberty to swap bodies with avatars, and the result is still refreshingly effective, especially when you add two “oldies” to the mix (Danny DeVito and Danny Glover). And, although the plot is string-thin, there remains that old-school yearning to get to the next level, beat the boss, and finish the game with a sense of completion (not the computer-winning “Game Over”).
I enjoyed the facial expression/mannerism trade-offs, but I wondered how much Dwayne Johnson actually saw Danny DeVito’s grandpa character because where he nails the “eh” grimaces, he adds an off-putting New York accent, nonexistent in DeVito’s performance.
The others are still good, especially – once again – Jack Black, who now inhabits the football jock and his testosterone-prone reactions.
I liked “The Next Level,” but I certainly didn’t laugh as much as I did when I first saw “Welcome to the Jungle.” I believe it’s because the hilarious discovery of the first avatar/human exchange just can’t be topped no matter how many other combinations you come up with. There will most likely be a third movie, and like the third video game in a series, I will most likely still watch (play) it. Consider me a typical, movie-loving customer.
Jumanji: The Next Level (2019) *** out of *****