- “Jumanji: The Next Level” is the sequel to the 2017 box-office hit, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.”
- The movie avoids a sequel slump by adding new characters and implementing some more video-game elements.
- And all praise goes to the movie’s scene stealer … a horse!
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“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” was one of the biggest box-office surprises of 2017, as Sony’s sequel to the 1995 Robin Williams-starrer brought in close to $1 billion at the worldwide box office.
That was shocking not just because the decades-old franchise found a second life, but because it held its own against “Star Wars” The Last Jedi,” which was released at the same time. Now Sony is hoping history will repeat itself this holiday season.
“Jumanji: The Next Level” (in theaters Friday) brings us back into the video game with a brand-new mission and new characters to root for.
In “Welcome to the Jungle,” the movie ends with the high-school seniors who were sucked into the game – Spencer (Alex Wolff), Martha (Morgan Turner), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), and Bethany (Madison Iseman) – winning their mission and destroying the game once they are back in reality. “The Next Level” picks up as the now best friends return home for the holidays from college. Everyone is excited to catch up – except Spencer. He’s overwhelmed at NYU, doesn’t know where he stands with Martha (the two fell in love while in the game), and he is nowhere as confident in life as the avatar he played in the game, Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson).
We find out that Spencer actually kept the broken game, and once he’s home, instead of meeting up with his friends, he gets the game working again and is sucked back in. His friends go after him, as well as Spencer’s grandfather, Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his friend, Milo (Danny Glover).
Quickly we learn that the Jumanji game is not the same as the first time they entered. The locations are different, and everyone, outside of Martha, are different characters. She’s still Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), but Fridge is Professor “Shelly” (Jack Black), Milo is Mouse (Kevin Hart), and Eddie is Dr. Bravestone. Bethany doesn’t make it in the game until later, and it’s in spectacular fashion.
So director Jake Kasdan has cleared the first hurdle in staying away from a stale sequel: he’s brought some changes to the existing characters. Hart is hilarious playing Mouse in the form of a laid back Danny Glover. Johnson is tasked with having to play up the wacky as DeVito, which can try your patience at times, but for the most part is entertaining. But the person who really owns the movie this time around is Gillan, whose Ruby Roundhouse has to keep the group on task as they try to find Spencer, who is now a new player named Ming (Awkwafina), and save Jumanji … again.
Like “Welcome to the Jungle,” this one explores self-confidence and the strength of friendship. The action and jokes come at you fast and often, especially when Bethany gets in the game (along with Alex, played again by Nick Jonas) and it’s revealed her character is a horse. Praise to Jumanji horse! It’s kind of a scene stealer the rest of the movie.
Sony is going a different route this time with “Jumanji,” releasing it a week before “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.” In 2017, “Welcome to the Jungle” came out the week after “Last Jedi.” Clearly the studio is confident the movie can hold its own, and it should play well as a counter to people who aren’t into “Star Wars,” or as a choice for people after going to see “Rise of Skywalker.” (The movie has already earned over $50 million internationally.)
I was a big fan of “Welcome to the Jungle” and had no idea how a sequel could match how entertaining that was. But Kasdan, along with screenwriters Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg, found some creative ways to keep things fresh by implementing more game elements, adding some new characters, and trusting that the strength of the existing cast would hold.
It’s a lot of fun.