Jumanji: The Next Level

Tonight I saw a movie I have a lot to say about, but it’s late, so instead I’m going to blurt out some quick comments about a different movie I saw a couple of days ago–Jumanji: The Next Level.

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Presumably, you are at least passingly familiar with this.  It’s the second, or third, or even fourth movie in the Jumanji franchise, depending on how you count.  But most directly, it’s just the sequel to the hit from a couple of years ago, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.  The story is about a magical video game that sucks players into it, where they can live out adventures as various avatar characters (who happen to look like Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan) in order to complete the game and learn important lessons about life.

In this outting features Spencer–the awkward video game lover from the first film–recovering the Jumanji game after his friends had tried to destroy it, and opting to play it again in a fit of insecurity over no longer looking like Dwayne Johnson.  He gets trapped inside, leading his friends to follow to rescue him (since players need to finish the game in order to escape).  However, due to the rule of funny, Spencer’s infirmed grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and Eddie’s estranged former business partner Milo (Danny Glover) go in instead of some of the youths.

Grandpa Eddie winds up in Dr. Smolder Bravestone, the over-the-top action hero played by Dwayne Johnson, while Milo ends up as “Mouse” Finbar, the diminutive equipment-bearing sidekick played by Kevin Hart.  This gives both Johnson and Hart the chance to play infirmed old men, which is kind of funny for a while (though Hart’s portrayal gets a little tired as it goes along).

Karen Gillan’s Lara Croft-like Ruby Roundhouse remains the same as the last time for most of the film.  This gives her more of the “leader” role to play in this installment, which is nice to see.   Jack Black, in the meantime, gets to be Fridge this time around, the black athlete that was Mouse in the first movie…and he’s hilarious.  Later, he’s also funny as Bethany, the Instagram-obsessed girl he played in the first movie–which is only weird because he plays her as being far ditzier than the “real” Bethany seems to be in her scenes.

The story then takes the group on a new set of action set-pieces and comedic situations for us to thrill and laugh at, as they try to find Spencer and once again save Jumanji. And all told, it works really well.  This is obviously not the sort of film one comes into looking for cinematic gold.  Instead, you want something funny and not terribly stupid–and on that level, it absolutely delivers.  Returning director Jake Kasdan has managed to pretty much recapture the same roller-coaster spirit we had in the first movie.  Indeed, it’s so close that I think if I walked halfway through this movie I wouldn’t be sure which of the two recent films I was watching (except that this one does finally give Karen Gillan some less ridiculous clothes to wear).

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All the cast are fine but the standout here is Awkwafina as Ming Fleetfoot, a new avatar who is Spencer for part of the film and Grandpa Eddie for the rest.  Awkwafina was in Crazy Rich Asians (which I haven’t seen) and Ocean’s 8 (which I didn’t like), so I haven’t really been aware of her, but here she hands down is the best out of everyone at channeling the personalities of the players who are supposedly controlling her.  When she’s Spencer, she is exactly like Spencer, and when she is Grandpa Eddie, you really buy that that’s Danny DeVito inhabiting her.  It’s a medium-sized role in a silly movie, but it’s a very good performance.

Another film is set up by the end of this one, and if they can keep up the same level of breezy fun, that’s fine with me.

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