Released: 26th December
Seen: 27th December

Two years ago, the world was surprised when the reboot of Jumanji came out and was actually really good. They had the near-impossible task of making a sequel to a Robin Williams movie just a few short years after he left us. It was the first time any property that Robin had touched would get revisited and somehow not only did they make it work, they even paid homage to the legend himself with some subtle and unsubtle nods. It ended up making almost a billion dollars at the box office and so naturally there was talk of a sequel. A sequel to Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle would have its own problem to deal with. Now that they had proven that they could make a film that honoured the original star… could they do something that didn’t rely on our love of a legend?

Jumanji: The Next Level picks up three years after the events of Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle. In that time our little group of kids have grown up a lot but are still fairly close. Bethany (Madison Iseman) has been travelling a lot and doing a ton more charity work, Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) got a football scholarship and spends a ton of time working out and practising and Martha (Morgan Turner) is adjusting to life in college which is extra hard after her relationship with Spencer (Alex Wolff) ended. Spencer is the one doing the worst though, college in New York has made him revert to the shy awkward teenager that he was. After making a trip home to help look after his grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito), Spencer pulls out the broken Jumanji game and repairs it so he can go in and try to regain the sense of self-worth he once had. Naturally, his friends follow him in, but the game is so busted that it brings Eddie and Eddie’s former friend Milo Walker in as well. Now everyone has different avatars and the teens have to try and quickly teach the two older members of their party how to play the game or else they might not make it out of Jumanji alive.

This film has exactly one big joke and it plays it perfectly. That joke is the fact that they have Danny DeVito as a member of the cast and therefore they have an excuse to do impressions of him for an hour. I cannot begin to tell you how much this film leans on the knowledge that Dwayne Johnson doing his Danny DeVito impression is hilarious. It was great in the last movie letting Dwayne play outside his strong cool comfort zone but this is a whole other level of comedic brilliance. By having the cast rotate impressions we get some great new elements to the mix. Kevin Hart doing an old Danny Glover performance is a genuine delight, he never breaks for a second and it’s brilliant. Extra huge props to Jack Black who exchanges his flawless Valley girl from the last movie to having Fridges voice. He toes right up to that line of taste and plays it perfectly, it just felt like he’d watched what Kevin did in the last movie a thousand times until he had it down. There are a few other people who try on impressions (including another character who genuinely does such a perfect Danny DeVito that they could step in for him any time the It’s Always Sunny In Philiadelphia cast needs help replacing Danny if the man gets the flu) but I won’t spoil that because it’s so funny and I want you to keep the surprise. Just know that you’ll get to see more people don the DeVito voice and it’ll be amazing.

They really use these new characters to maintain the fresh feeling of this movie because everything else is certainly an echo of the last movie, with the drums that signify an insane set piece that might result in a comical death or two by the main characters and the film slowly teaching each of them something new about themselves before landing an emotional gut-punch near the end. All the big moments from the last film, we’ve got a version of them here. It’s a handy template to have and they follow it so perfectly, even down to having the characters split up so Jack and Karen Gillan get a scene together while Dwayne and Kevin do something else. It runs the risk of feeling repetitive but because they let everyone switch characters for an hour, it helps make everything feel new again. Of course, when they let some of the main cast have their old characters back it just feels like a copy from the original but by that point, I was so charmed by the movie that they could get away with it.

There are a few more problems with this one than the last one. They basically never use Colin Hanks, AKA the guy who had Nick Jonas as his avatar. Colin turns up for a few scenes but gets forgotten for the closing, which sucks because now he’s an actual part of the gang it would be nice to at least have him in more of the film. I also don’t think this movie’s villain is as interesting as the one from Welcome To The Jungle. This movie’s villain is just some guy called Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann) and he’s nowhere near as interesting as Van Pelt was and since the name Van Pelt is actually part of this franchise’s mythology (according to the TV series) it would’ve been nice to have kept that going.

There are a few nice little nods back to the original again, though nothing quite as pointed as a scene taking place inside the house that Alan Parrish built when he was trapped in the jungle. I won’t spoil the specifics but one of them is a very nice little cameo by one of the original stars, the other just being the reappearance of Alan’s game token during the credits. It’s certainly a lot more subtle than the last movie where they literally just had a moment silence for the loss of Robin, but it’s still nice to see them acknowledging what came before it while pushing the series in this fun new direction.

In general, Jumanji: The Next Level is a lot of fun. Not quite as surprising as the first, but with enough fresh elements to keep the idea working. I almost want them to do this again and go even further with the people they try to imitate. Cast Gilbert Gottfried and let Dwayne Johnson do that impression for 90 minutes, I’ll buy all the tickets for that one. It’s a really good film that justifies this series continuing… and if the mid-credits scene is any indication, we’ve got more of this coming.

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