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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle shouldn’t have worked. It had everything going against it from the moment it was announced. For starters many believed it was trying to capitalise on Robin Williams death, a soul so pure that to even conjure such a motive is evil. The subtitle Welcome to the Jungle gave the vibe that it might be a Guns N’ Roses tribute movie. The reboot’s premise centered around video games; if you had any knowledge of how video games are portrayed in movies then you knew this was a risky move.
Meanwhile, the cast included The Rock who appeared in 90 per cent of generic Hollywood blockbusters, Kevin Hart who arguably hadn’t starred in a decent flick in his career and Jack Black playing a teenage girl. Director Jake Kandan’s previous feature was the abysmal Sex Tape. Everything aligned for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle to be one of the world’s most detested films. Yet, somehow the impossible happened. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle wasn’t just merely acceptable, it was great. Filled with laughs, emotion and a heart that is seldom seen in blockbusters, the movie is one of the finest family films to arrive in years. As such, why would anyone doubt sequel Jumanji: The Next Level then? After all, we were wrong before.
Jumanji: The Next Level begins with an insight into how the gang is doing since their trip to the jungle. Bethany (Madison Iseman) may still be obsessed with her phone, but only so that she can keep in contact with her friends through their groupchat. Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) is in the best mental and physical shape of his life as he trains for his college football team. Martha (Morgan Turner) is striving in college becoming popular for the first time in her life. Unfortunately though, Spencer (Alex Wolff) is going through a rough patch.
Working a dead-end job, on a break from Martha and being forced to share a room with his grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) has taken a toll on the kid. So much so in fact, he decides to re-enter Jumanji in hope of finding happiness. It’s up to the gang, now aided with Grandpa Eddie and his ex-best friend Milo (Danny Glover) to follow Spencer to save him from his troubles and what lies in the game.
The opening twenty minutes of the film will likely go unpraised by many of the audience who have paid money to see A-list actors make fun of themselves for two hours. Because of this, it needs to be stated how well the young cast do before the stars take over. Outside of Hereditary’s Wolff none of these less experienced performers have found major success following the previous film. In the fleeting moments of screentime they are given though they manage to make you invested in the characters that The Rock and co inherit later on through their genuine banter together.
The opening 20 minutes also gifts us Danny DeVito who’s in fine form as a cranky old man who wants to re-visit his youth. Following his film-saving performance in Dumbo earlier this year and yet again knocking it out pf the park on It’s Always Sunny it’s clear that the veteran actor has never been better. Danny Glover and DeVito share two scenes together that will leave the crowd in stitches. What could have been a forgettable opening ends up adding emotional depth that carries on for the rest of the film.
Once Martha, Fridge, Eddie, and Milo are transported into the jungle it becomes apparent that things are going to be harder than before. The elders of the group Eddie and Milo are thrown into Dwayne Johnson’s and Kevin Hart’s respected bodies. Fridge is tasked with going from being the muscle to being Jack Black. Martha remains in Karen Gillan’s body, but trying to keep control of her co-players is perhaps the hardest task of them.
The prospect of Johnson and Hart playing two old men had the potential to become, pardon the pun, very old very quickly. However, Johnson and Hart have a blast. It’s always refreshing to see Johnson step away from his typical macho man performances. Not many of Hollywood’s leading action stars are willing to take themselves this lightly. Hart gives a terrific performance too, a running joke about how long it takes him to get to the point is delightful. It’s easy to forget just how funny the comedian is considering the slew of nothing comedies he’s starred in.
Karen Gillan’s role may not be the funniest, but she’s the glue that holds most of them together. Without her playing straight the film would have reached the absurdity tipping point. Plus, seeing the Avengers’ star fight with nunchucks is worth the price of admission alone. Jack Black is once again the standout performer as he plays a gym fanatic trapped in Jack Black’s body. There is no one on the planet who can go toe to toe with Black in physical comedy. During a career renaissance that’s seen him become a genuinely great YouTuber, who knows what the man will do next.
Director Jake Kasdan’s best decision in the film was adding Awkwafina to the picture. In a week that’s seen the actress land her first Golden Globe nomination for The Farewell, it’s surreal seeing her goof around again. Playing a character called Ming, Awkwafina finds humour poking fun at the idiotic stereotypes in video games. For the second time this year she also brings raw emotion to her work. No one is entering this film expecting to have a lump in their throat at any stage, yet Awkwafina adds an emotional depth that elevates the film to grander heights.
Kasdan could have easily relied solely on his tried and tested cast from the first film, but he never wanted to make a merely acceptable follow-up. From ludicrous action set pieces to a final act that is gloriously ridiculous, the co-writer-director makes a rare sequel that matches the first. What other film could get away with a baboon dune buggy chase?
Jumanji: The Next Level is fun from start to finish. It never takes itself too seriously, which allows it to go places no one sees coming. When the first film was announced we all feared it would be something Robin Williams would have hated. Instead, it’s obvious the late comedian would have loved the franchise for its zany performances and heart that epitomised his career. No one can complain when the inevitable third part of these films is announced. We all doubted the sequel would match the first no one wanted. Why would we doubt again?