Letterboxd Review - Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)
It's a sequel! That means bigger explosions, more exotic settings, a new powerful bad guy...et cetera. Jumanji: The Next Level has all of that, leading movie archeologists in the future to write it off as your typical big-budget action adventure sequel. Like The Mummy Returns, or Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. It is not one of those. It's far better. But it does show some of the familiar symptoms of sequel-itis.
The real magic trick of these Jumanji movies is they allow their superstar-studded main cast to do a fair bit of actual acting. While this entry's body-swap comedy premise feels flimsy and random from a screenwriting point of view, it affords Jack Black, Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, and Kevin Hart the opportunity to again quietly disappear into a completely different character. I feel they are allowed to get away with this because they are in the foreground of a $150 million pre-vis studio tentpole that can be easily sold in other markets.
Johnson and Hart, who got by well in the first movie just playing into or against their respective types, get to double down in fine sequel form and impersonate Danny DeVito and Danny Glover for a big portion of the film. How do they do? Decently. On-par with Josh Brolin's Men in Black 3 performance as Tommy Lee Jones. I'll say this: they successfully create the illusion that DeVito and Glover are present in the film for the entire adventure, though our treasured elders are only in perhaps 10 minutes of real-world wraparound scenes. Johnson looks immensely uncomfortable trying to pull off DeVito's trademark New Jersey accent, and it is pulled off so much better later in the movie by another star.
It's bizarre that these goofball comedy performances are the notable highlights of a movie filled with motorcycle chases, ostrich and mandrill attacks, vine-swinging, ice wall climbing, and a fight on a giant dirigible. All that stuff is there, and it's done right. Jake Kasdan seems to be making these movies as an audition to helm something much bigger--like a Star Wars or an Indiana Jones size franchise--and I think he could at this point. The action spectacle stuff is just more noticeably shifted to the back of the frame this time around, as is the plot.
While the first film took great pride in cheekily providing a boilerplate video game plot with a magic stone and the rules of the Jumanji world, The Next Level assumes you played the tutorial already and it even skips most of the cutscenes for you. The very idea that our misfit heroes will save the day and escape the Jumanji video game is such a forgone conclusion that the final 30 minutes feels flatter than it should. But again, I'm not here so much for the world-building or the thrilling backstory for Baron von Evil Dude. I'm here to watch Jack Black and Karen Gillan play teenage girls talking about their feelings.
Make five more of these. I'll watch them.
This review is a part of Kyle's Letterboxd profile, which includes reviews and movie lists not covered here at the blog, including a ranking of several franchises and excerpts from the book, Cinema Autopsy, which is available on the Amazon Kindle store.