The first Jumanji reboot Welcome to the Jungle was an incredibly pleasant surprise. It really had no right to be as good as it was, given that it reinvented the idea of Jumanji for a more modern audience. But it was funny, charming, and with great characters.
Sadly the follow up Jumanji: The Next Level doesn’t live up to the high standards that the first one has set. It picks up a couple of years after the first as all the characters come home from college for Christmas. Spencer finds that his grandpa Eddie is staying with him, and finds himself drawn back into Jumanji, but doesn’t fix the broken game properly, meaning that when everyone follows him they end up with different avatars.
The problem with this is that it kind of just allows for a rehashing of the same character arcs as the first film. Spencer finds himself broken up from Bethany because he doesn’t believe in himself and needs to become the strong Dr. Bravestone in order to reassure himself. This is the kind of lazy storytelling, where you have characters break up of screen just so you can redo their relationship in a sequel without earning any kind of new story for them.
We do get the addition of new characters Eddie and his former friend and business partner Milo Walker. But whilst they do bring two very different characters to the world their relationship and it’s evolution over the film is actually just very reminiscent of Spencer and Fridge’s from the previous film. What this does give us though is Kevin Hart’s performance as Milo. I’m not always a big fan of Hart’s but this is comfortably his best performance to date.
Dwayne Johnson’s old man stick however very quickly gets old and is never as funny and Hart’s. Unsurprisingly the real standouts of the film are Jack Black who is hilarious as the avatar of Fridge, and gives a completely different performance to what we saw in the last Jumanji, and Karen Gillan who is still the most badass character of the film.
Whilst Jumanji: The Next Level is still a very funny and entertaining film it misses the heart and strong character growth that made Welcome to the Jungle such a big hit.