Jumanji: The Next Level is Oddly, Maybe Accidentally, Progressive
Level up! Hollywood hits play again with the modestly charming, mostly harmless, oddly progressive video-game movie Jumanji: The Next Level, delivering a second round of all the same-but-different goals, gags, and gender-bending giggles first showcased in the surprise hit Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Written by: Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinker, Scott Rosenberg
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jones, Awkwafina
Running time: 123 min
Waitaminute: didn’t the main characters destroy the Jumanji console at the end of the last movie? Yes. Yes, they did. Apparently just touching its smashed debris, or being in its vicinity after it’s activated, sucks people into its perilous matrix. Because techno-magic? No, because sequel money.
This time, insecure asthmatic Spencer (Alex Wolff) chooses to re-enter the wildly life-threatening role-playing adventure so he can electronically cosplay as beefy bald Dwayne Johnson one more time. And that forces his worried friends, plus two confused old men, to smell what he’s cooking and dutifully follow in his digital footsteps.
Problem is, Spencer’s unwitting, gnomish grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) ends up with Johnson’s brawny body, Eddie’s estranged best friend Milo (Danny Glover) gets Kevin Hart’s muscular Boy Scout frame, and Spencer is nowhere to be found. An even bigger problem: they’re all trapped in Jumanji until, you guessed it, they complete the game’s quest.
Cue non-player character Nigel Billingsley (Rhys Darby) to explain their challenge with chipper robotic vim. “Get the green jewel and stick it back in the statue thing?” guesses one of the players. Actually, this time, it’s a heart-sized amber gem that needs sunlight. But, yes, more or less, that’s correct. Also threatening the gang: stampeding ostriches, ravenous hyenas, psychotic mandrills, plus dozens and dozens of hapless henchmen. In addition to the ubiquitous jungle setting, the movie features a desert landscape with a seedy oasis village and a nefarious winter stronghold perched on an icy mountain range.
The geriatric cast members keep shouting things like “Who is Jumanji?” and “Are we in Florida?” while the millennials keep yelling at them that it’s a video game. Relatable, amirite? Old people are so dumb. Also dumb? Villains. One tries to escape in a dirigible, still the worst form of transportation ever invented.
Jumanji: The Next Level re-enlists the previous film’s director as well as a few of its writers, which means the whimsical swashbuckling tone and CGI-conjured daredevil thrills are all consistently intact. So, too, is a giddy sense of absurdity and self-awareness that makes the generic action-adventure tropes weirdly forgivable.
Oddly enough, Jumanji might also be the most accidentally woke movie ever released by a studio. Men are in women’s bodies, women are in men’s bodies, black people play white people, white people play Asian people. And then they all switch again. It’s a gender-racial roundelay. Which, if you think about it, is pretty next-level stuff.