22 years after the release of the original Jumanji film, director/co-writer Jake Kasdan and Sony Pictures dropped the loose sequel Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle in 2017. The movie starred Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black. Despite the strong cast, the sequel was mostly met with disdain prior to its release. Once people started seeing it however, it garnered praise from both critics and moviegoers alike due to its humour, sense of fun and adventure, and the excellent chemistry within the ensemble cast. It also grossed nearly $1 Billion at the worldwide box office.
Certainly, Jumanji: The Next Level had a lot to live up to, and I’m happy to write that the movie is very much a worthy follow-up. While I don’t feel that it’s as strong as its predecessor, I enjoyed the heck out of the flick.
Once again, the main cast (Johnson, Hart, Gillan, and Black) turn in vibrantly entertaining performances (more on that later), and though franchise newcomers the Danny’s (Glover and DeVito) themselves don’t have much screen time, they make the most of it with their curmudgeonly relationship, and Awkwafina provides some strong laughs as well. Alex Wolff (Spencer), Madison Iseman (Bethany), Ser’Darius Blain (Fridge), and Morgan Turner (Martha) fall back into their old roles with ease, and it’s a pleasure to see these characters as good friends right from the start. Admittedly, much like the last movie, the villain (here played by Game of Thrones’ Rory McCann) gets shortchanged and is given very little to do.
In Welcome to the Jungle, I found that Gillan did the most impressive job of emulating her non-avatar counterpart (Turner), it is indeed Kevin Hart who is the standout here. If you’ve seen the trailers, you’re aware that in this film Johnson is channeling DeVito, with Hart embodying Glover (along with a number of other surprises that I won’t spoil here). Johnson’s impression of DeVito is pretty accurate and is played for some great laughs, but Hart does a very impressive job of becoming Glover. He has the voice, inflections and mannerisms down, but there are moments where he’ll make a particular face that looks strikingly like Glover.
As I mentioned earlier, much as I enjoyed this sequel, I do think that Welcome to the Jungle is the overall better film. This movie is very funny, but maybe not as funny, particularly as certain running jokes begin to get a little tired. Having written that, there is a course correction in the third act which solves that problem.
Further, the visual effects are hit or miss. Most of the CGI animals look photo-realistic, but – and this was an issue with the previous movie – the CGI used for the human avatars (particularly when showing off their more superhuman abilities) does not look great. I’m reminded of the “Force Speed Run” (for lack of a better term) from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.
Still, Jumanji: The Next Level hits an emotional level that Welcome to the Jungle never quite reached. There was a moment towards the end that had me legitimately choked up, and it was absolutely beautiful.
I believe that Jumanji: The Next Level will be a big hit with audiences and critics. I had a blast, as did my audience. So now the question becomes: will they make a third? Honestly, I hope so.
- Rated: PG-13
- Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, fantasy
- Release Date: 12/12/2019
- Directed by: Jake Kasdan
- Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart
- Produced by: Dany Garcia, Dwayne Johnson, Jake Kasdan
- Written by: Chris Van Allsburg, Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg
- Studio: Hartbeat Productions, Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE)