By John Liu
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
After the stellar box office run of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” in 2017, the same cast is back in an all-new adventure with a few additions and some new concepts. Jumanji has added veteran actors Danny Glover and Danny Devito, and rising star Awkwafina. Ever since I saw the trailers, I was excited to see if “Next Level” could recreate the same magic.
Here is a quick refresher if you are not familiar with Jumanji. This is a sequel to the 2017 movie where Martha (Morgan Turner), Spencer (Alex Wolff), Bethany (Madison Iseman), and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) get sucked into a video game where they had to retrieve the Jaguar’s Eye gemstone. They succeeded and became friends.
In 2019, the four friends have gone off to college, but keep in touch by group texting. Martha, Bethany, and Fridge set up a reunion, but Spencer ignores them and does not show up. They look for Spencer at his house where they bump into Eddie (Danny Devito), Spencer’s grandpa, and his good friend Milo (Donald Glover). After looking in the basement, they discover a busted Jumanji game console and assume Spencer had been sucked in. The three friends activate Jumanji, but this time, Eddie, Milo, Martha, and Fridge are sucked into the game. Thus begins a hilarious adventure with new personalities for our lovable video game cast: Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), and Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black). Our heroes are joined by Ming Fleetfoot (Awkafina) and Seaplane McDonough (Nick Jonas) and must recover the Falcon’s Heart gemstone from Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann).
“The Next Level” starts with Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart acting as Danny Devito’s and Danny Glover’s personality, respectively. Fridge and Martha have previous Jumanji experience so they are right at home. This scenario feels exactly like some teens teaching their grandparents how to play a video game.
I really enjoyed the chemistry between Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson taking jabs at each other as 60-year-old personalities. Now add in Awkwafina, Nick Jonas, and switch their personalities around, and that is the perfect storm for comedic moments. Given Awkafina’s previous movie roles, she is a good fit with the original cast and her quirkiness really sold whoever’s personality was in her at the time. I was pleasantly surprised at how much screen time she got.
Unfortunately, with so many characters, it is hard to do much more than a generic video game plot and simple character development. Before Spencer ended up in Jumanji, he appeared to be having problems adjusting to his college life and his relationship with Martha suffered. Ultimately, when we find the reason why Spencer jumped back into Jumanji, I was like, “Seriously?” THAT was the reason you are willing to “sacrifice” your life?
Another theme that has vanished was playing it safe on your last life. In Jumanji 2019, no one gives a second thought when they only have one life left. It is not established what exactly happens in Jumanji when losing your last life, but it is assumed you just disappear permanently.
The movie could have taken some dark turns, which would have greatly increased the entertainment value, but I am unable to elaborate without spoiling the movie. It likely would have led to a divisive ending, which most movies try to avoid because it can directly impact their bottom line. Thank goodness for Awkwafina’s addition so I would not be reviewing yet another Dwayne Johnson movie for my API angle.
My final thought was with the Street Fighter video game featured in this movie again, it would be cool if one of the characters needed to learn a special move with some quarter circle motions to take down a villain. Too nerdy? Hopefully that will be in “Jumanji: The Final Boss” in the future!
“Jumanji: The Next Level” is playing at theaters nationwide.
John can be reached at email@example.com.