Directed By Jake Kasdan
Starring – Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black
The Plot – The gang is back but the game has changed. As they return to Jumanji to rescue one of their own, they discover that nothing is as they expect. The players will have to brave parts unknown and unexplored, from the arid deserts to the snowy mountains, in order to escape the world’s most dangerous game.
Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some adult language
– Heartfelt enveloping. As to where “Welcome To The Jungle” was focused primarily on the fictional characters and foreign worlds inside of the game, the general outline of “The Next Level” caters to the two groups of friends who find themselves trapped in this newest level, which in turn bring forth a sampling of poignant themes and psychological pulse to the film to help outline a positive message that audiences can take with them. There are many to take home, but the most prominent is definitely reality not living up to fantasy, and how one character’s dependency in the game world risks not only his, but the lives of those who mean the most to him. This is realized in a unique perspective which has him jumping back in to become the powerfully cool Dwayne Johnson, but instead is disappointed when the game casts him as another fictional character closer to the way he sees himself in the real world. It’s an originally inspiring way of battling mental perceptions, and proves that this game has a conscience that far exceeds its grasp as just a throwaway form of entertainment. So too does the film.
– Thrilling action set pieces. As mundane as the gameplay and strategy of the fictional Jumanji game is, it does manifest three completely different forms of adversity that not only pushes the boundaries of character well-being, but also signifies the big budget increase that this franchise has been blessed with after an unpredictable rebirth. The urgency in direction from Kasdan is completely off-the-chain, spilling over into rumbling herds of dangerous animals and gut-punching heights that fleshes out the danger and vulnerability of each scenario. In turn, Henry Jackman’s wondrous score plays hand-in-hand with the ambition of so many grand scale shots, and supplants a transcendence of energy from the screen that practically yanks at the arms of its investing audience. Perhaps the single most authentic feeling in crafting a computer generated video game to transfer to live action form.
– One major improvement. One of my biggest weaknesses for “Welcome To the Jungle” was the complete lack of urgency that kept my concern for these characters reserved at nearly all times. Thankfully, Kasdan and screenwriters must have shared the same sentiment, as it’s almost a complete 180 turn in terms of juggling with the uncertainty that the game’s rules better illustrate in this installment. For one, it’s the consistent attention to each character’s health meter that never remains still for longer than ten minutes. In addition to this, the unpredictable nature of apruptly gruesome deaths not only supplanted that this was a completely new game all together, but also preserved a vengeful feel for the dangerous environment that cemented it as its own living, breathing character within the game. Finally, one character’s bombshell delivery midway through the film provides a race against the clock that would otherwise allow this group to carefully measure their adversaries out to take the appropriate course of conquering. Instead, the air of inevitability takes shape, and boosts the film’s second half in a way that energized it at a time when it was starting to grow stagnant.
– Dual audience appeal. The film’s off-screen production is wise enough to make this a PG-13 deeming, not only for the way such a rating encourages a family opportunity around the holidays, but also for how the material is meticulous enough to never alienate either side. The adventure and pacing of a video game structure will do more than enough to keep kids firmly supplanted in their seats to a near two hour runtime, but the colorful dynamic of Johnson and Hart, as well as no shortage of big screen presence, offer more than enough testy twists on the comedic material that allows this to transcend the typical kids genre classification. This is a screenplay that values both pivotal age groups consistently, where the jokes are written just conventionally enough not to go over the heads of youths, all the while maintaining that elevation of maturity that keeps it free from the confines of crude or slapstick. This wasn’t one of the better comedies of 2019, but there’s just enough laughs and memorable lines to remind us that there’s still plenty of creative juice to be squeezed from this experimental gimmick, which has brought forth three notable efforts thus far.
– Delightful cast. Once again, Johnson, Hart, Black, and Karen Gillan are spectacular at all levels of improv comedy, this time diving even deeper in roles that challenge the typical conventions that perfectly capture their range as character actors. But what keeps this from being a rehash of the first movie’s gimmicks is the film’s desire to shake things up frequently throughout the film, which in turn gives each of them the chance to make the character their own. It’s definitely more impression over immersion, but that’s a good thing with a silly premise as fantastical as this, and really solidifies why each of these actors gel so impeccably with one another based on their full-proof chemistry. Joining the fray are Danny Devito, Danny Glover, and Awkwafina, bringing more players to this once tight-knit group of friendly characters. Their additions bring mixed results, primarily in how two of the three are tragically misused with their time in the introductory narrative, but are at least substantial in freshening up the gimmicks within the game, so they never grow stale with the personalities that the fabulous four already portrayed in the previous film.
– Moving forward. Without spoiling anything, there’s a series of movements in the film’s closing ten minutes that not only satisfied questions within me that I’ve always wanted answered about Jumanji itself, but also blazes the trail creatively for how a fourth film in the franchise could return to where it all started. Particularly it’s in the link to the 1995 original movie that brings forth some clever surprises in the way a film introduces a familiar face, as well rethinks the game in a way where the stakes and urgency will once again feel even more frail. On top of this, could characters within the world of the game tread hollow ground that they’ve treaded? The ideas genuinely fascinate me. As to where “Welcome To the Jungle” opened up my mind for subtle interest into another sequel, this movie has me especially interested for one final movie that could cast the exclamation point on a near-25 year franchise that have aged audiences in the same way Alan Parrish did when he was trapped inside the game.
– Vapid computer generation. Kasdan’s film is clearly more dependent on artificial backdrops and animal adversaries, but the skills attained for such an increase wield such bleak and soulless renderings in the way such properties interact with what’s real. The animal movements feel rigid, complete with a color coordination that doesn’t always vibrantly reflect the elements of the environment that surrounds them. One such scene involving an army of ostriches attacking the group in a desert outback feels as lifeless as practical green-screen being displayed in and around the escape vehicle of our protagonists. In addition to this, the artificial backdrops lack the kind of depth and dimension to make this feel like a lived-in, breathed-in place that is ever so resonant of contemporary excellence in video game graphing. One could blame all of these elements on the gimmick of this all taking place within a video game, but if that’s the case why doesn’t everything else in character design and weather elements look even remotely pixelated?
– Weak antagonist. Once again, the biggest problem that plagued the first movie is the same one that keeps this one from ever articulating the menace of its mission. With no personality and very little influence of scenes in the entirety of the script, the film’s central conflict is nothing more than an afterthought when compared to the protagonist opposition that have taken two movies to build anything as strong as a family at this point. Maybe it’s in the casting that could do something to give this another big name, as well as boost a threat that could manufacture a shred of uncertainty to play against Johnson’s incredibly imposing figure, but the flat, unintimidating nature of this adversary makes him nothing more than just another momentary conflict, with the same kind of threat that is equal in intensity to an army of ostriches.
– The rules. This is something that continues to puzzle me as we move forward in a series with as much ambiguity for logic as only a living, breathing video game could maintain. Some characters keep their same video game personas from the first movie when others don’t, some characters get sucked into the game while not being anywhere near the game, electrical water can apparently transfer personalities and not kill them, there is apparently more levels to the same game that was deemed defeated in the first movie, and we have apparently lost all cut scenes that were prominent in “Welcome To the Jungle”. To write this off as just a damaged cartridge, which the movie never does, is completely irresponsible. Speaking of which, why are there no game glitches for a cartridge as damaged as the one laying in a dusty suitcase? Where does it start and end with logic in this movie?
– Uncomfortable instances. If Jack Black emoting an African American character doesn’t unnerve you in a way that calls for audible racial stereotyping, the film’s rendering of Awkwafina might just make you scratch your head for her questionable backstory. She’s a pick-pocketing thief, who is the lone Asian representation in the entire movie. This is especially appalling when you consider that Awkwafina previously played a thief in “Ocean’s 8”, a movie that at least called for the role, but here doesn’t render any positive meaning for why her avatar is given such a morally bankrupt decision whatsoever. It doesn’t play any kind of factor in what her character does after she’s introduced as such, and is the biggest in a field of questionable decisions that proves the movie was anything but socially conscious.
My Grade: 6/10 or C+