‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ reruns the programme, with a few welcome wrinkles
“Jumanji: The Next Level” is an obvious play on videogame jargon, but the subtitle does not describe the programme that this light-hearted sequel follows. That is because the mission is to replicate the original’s appeal — inevitably minus any sense of discovery – but with a few welcome wrinkles, a basic level that the movie pretty efficiently beats.
The aforementioned wrinkles in fact have a literal meaning, since new additions to the cast include Danny DeVito and Danny Glover, as a pair of senior citizens drawn into the mayhem, whose naivete about how this inside-the-game world works creates an extra layer of amusement. Throw in Awkafina as a new avatar and Rory McCann (“Game of Thrones”) as a hulking heavy, and there is enough going on here to power the movie past its arid patches, involving a mid-movie lull.
Having gained box-office bonuses the first time out, director/co-writer Jake Kasdan clearly is not seeking to reinvent the wheel, or even re-programme it. Yet, he does give the key players some amusing ways to riff on their characters, including using the playful notion that nobody is necessarily wedded to their avatar for good.
The central younger quartet, or “core four,” remains the same — a year older, now in college and looking forward to a Christmastime reunion. Yet, Spencer (Alex Wolff) seems to be struggling a bit with his transition to college, prompting him to dig up the game, with significant consequences for all concerned.
His comrades in the first ordeal – played by Morgan Turner, Ser’Darius Blain and Madison Iseman – must grudgingly try to follow, but joining in the melee are Spencer’s grandfather – DeVito – and his former business partner and friend – Glover- who shows up looking to reconnect after a long-ago falling out. Once again, they are forced to play Jumanji, this time in a totally different setting, finding their way back to the real world.
The primary avatars — Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black — appear to be having an awfully good time with all this silliness, which is mildly infectious, even when the movie sags.
In addition, Kasdan makes clear that he is not taking any of this too seriously, and little asides — like a riff on the “Lawrence of Arabia” theme during a desert sequence — underscore that point. Similarly, if it is mentioned that a character has a new ability, you can bet that will usefully, comedically arise at some later stage.
As always, there is something a little awkward about going back to a story that neatly brought the characters to a new place, as the earlier film neatly did. That cannot help but make the encore feel a little forced, an issue which the movie addresses head on.
“I just can’t believe you came back here on purpose,” a character snaps early on, understandably agitated about being exposed anew to the perils of the game.
It is a perfectly legitimate gripe, but as long as this formula keeps running up the score, “Jumanji” — like its videogame avatars — is expected to keep coming back.