This, is ultra-predictable. “After Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’s box-office success in 2017, the franchise will, hence; never get a sequel,” said no one ever. And so, Jake Kasdan, the director of Welcome to the Jungle, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the leading actor, hopped into the producers’ chairs and rallied the crackling group of in-game avatars for another round of adventure, into The Next Level. Which, was aptly titled Jumanji: The Next Level.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was quite a box-office monster, which climbed its way to become the 5th highest grossing film worldwide in 2017, even beating the likes of Thor: Ragnarok and Wonder Woman. Just how did it do that?? In no corresponding order, I suspect three things at play; the love and nostalgia that the matured audience had for the Robin Williams-starred film, the appeal of mega action superstar Dwayne Johnson, and the opportunity to see Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan kicking some asses on-screen, all at the same time.
Now, nostalgia has been taken out of the equation, unfortunately. Because let’s face it, with The Next Level out in theaters in just under two years since Welcome to the Jungle, sans any meaningful connection towards the 1995 film, there’s not much nostalgia left to exploit, and yet there’s no massive craving for a Jumanji movie just yet. Can The Next Level rely on its four avatars of strength and dexterity (and perhaps some ego and obesity, too) to move on?
For a start, Jumanji, as pictured in Welcome to the Jungle, is a dangerous, life-threatening game. People can go in and get stuck for decades, and even possibly won’t ever return. That’s the degree of threat that Jumanji brings, which have stayed true since the days of Alan Parrish. Players who have made it out alive, will not go back in for no apparent reason. Unless, you are Jake Kasdan, and as a producer, director and co-writer, you want to put Dr Bravestone, Mouse, Shelly and Ruby Roundhouse back on the silver screen faster than anyone could yell “Jumanji”, because you have a potentially fat pay cheque coming.
Kasdan and co tried to engineer the return of the game with some emotional downturn suffered by Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), a survivor from Welcome to the Jungle, with insufficient emotional weights tied to the events. Except for the exceptionally entertaining acts and lines by Spencer’s grandfather, Eddie Gilpin (Danny DeVito), there’s really not much to gather from the first act. It’s turning into a lot like what my brother used to tell me while we were playing game consoles, “Skip the intro! Start the game!”
Fortunately, things do fare (a little) better once the plot has switched to the world of Jumanji, when you are greeted by familiar faces with unfamiliar traits. I just have to acknowledge Danny DeVito’s capacity to make Eddie Gilpin so memorable and unique in such a short period of time, that the character was instantly “recognizable” in-game, even in the hands of not-super-capable actors like, *cough… Each time he (Dr Smolder Bravestone) gave out a long, squinting stare, or let go of a high-pitched “Huh?”, the image of Eddie instantly registered in my head.
On the other hand, Kevin Hart played a better Milo-Walker-under-the-skin-of-Mouse than Milo Walker himself (which was portrayed by Danny Glover. Confused yet?). The old-man vibe was strong in the hands of Hart, and the speed of his speech was really killing it. Well, and killing off some avatar’s in-game lives too, in the process.
Elsewhere, remaining avatars Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black) and Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) were given adequate spaces to stretch their acting capabilities too, in which, I won’t go into the “how” here to avoid potential spoilers. Oh, by the way, Gillan’s fans are sure to go frenzy in The Next Level, because, unbeknownst to me, Gillan has really learned how to express her adoration through her eyes. Her eyes seemingly purr with pouring affection, that even a not-that-big-of-a-fan like me, found the experience electrifying.
Now that we are done with the left column of Jumanji: The Next Level, let’s go to the right column. Yes, that is I’m assuming that the movie as a whole, has a pop-up list of strengths and weaknesses like the avatars do.
Number one in the weaknesses list have to be this: replication. I won’t go as far as to call The Next Level a duplicate of Welcome to the Jungle, but once the main highlight of the film has worn down, they are both very, very identical. And by the main highlight, I mean the attractive proposition that there are now two old men stuck in the game, that have a tendency to behave in more childish ways than the teenagers themselves. Nothing more. The premise itself is wacky and entertaining, but once you get used to it, The Next Level shifts from being a leisure to a routine.
This is also something that I couldn’t just easily pinpoint from the trailers, because, ultimately, there were tons of new ‘levels’, new animals and even new faces in them. It’s hard to explain, but kind of like the feeling you get when you dine in a restaurant in a foreign country, but eventually find out that they use the same recipe as the the eatery next to your home. It’s not just about hearing Nigel Billingsley uttering “Welcome to Jumanji!” twice. The familiarism extends way, way further than that.
Next on the list is perhaps a by-product of the first one. The film is so identical to Welcome to the Jungle, that, without any surprise, one of the traits get carried over, and that’s predictability. Don’t be bothered with all the initial hype which made you believe that Jumanji is busted. Rigged. Compromised. I walked into the cinema expecting just that, hoping for some twists that could spice up the plot,and needless to say, I walked out disappointed.
To avoid being as straightforward as The Next Level, maybe I’ll go back to the left column again to give an overdue credit. That is, if you’re looking forward to have a good laugh in this installment of Jumanji, then you’re in for a treat. Cranky Eddie Gilpin often reacts with some of the punchiest comical lines. Even if DeVito isn’t ‘physically’ in the scene, this characteristic gets carried over into his avatar, which was cleverly pitted against Milo Walker’s avatar for some truly hilarious sentences. Like when Dr Bravestone is ‘smoldering’ (putting out that serious, macho look), and Milo Walker thinks that Eddie is having a heart attack. That scene was already out in the trailer though, thus, I’m not exposing any spoilers, a.k.a rigging the ‘game.
Jumanji: The Next Level is essentially (a funnier) Welcome to the Jungle being recycled, apart from the tiny nuances observed with the introduction of some new characters. Perhaps that’s because I was hoping too much that The Next Level will fetch the story towards a different standing than what’s left by the former film. Or maybe, I’m not that keen of a person to play through a single game again and again. Ultimately, Jumanji: The Next Level, is perfectly just that. Same game, different level in a different map, with a slightly different boss.—The Film Addict