Level Up This Christmas
A year after the events of Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle the four students have graduated high school and are attending separate universities. With the holiday season in full swing, they all return to their home town to meet up. However, Spencer Alex Wolff] is extremely disenfranchised with university life and living in New York is extremely difficult for him. Feeling he wants to recapture the courage and strength he possessed as Dr Bravestone [Johnson], Spencer repairs the video game console and re-enters the game. Worried by Spencer’s silence, Fridge, Bethany and Martha go over to his house, only to be greeted by Spencer’s grandfather Eddie [DeVito] and his old friend (who have clearly fallen out) Milo [Glover]. Realising Spencer has gone back, the others commit to save him but with the machine broken, it drags Eddie and Milo along and assigns them all random avatars for a new adventure.
As with the previous instalment, the direction, score and sound work are all perfectly functional and I was as surprised as anyone that this drastic shift in tone worked out rather well. Granted the script was a little repetitive with certain jokes and both the editing and CGI left quite a lot to be desired and frankly very little has changed. In a way, with so much of the same elements at play, this movie feels like an intended seamless continuation filmed back to back with the first part. But this is as much a negative as it is a positive, as the film never pushes forward confidently and takes a wafer-thin plot that doesn’t maximise on the potential of the concept of a broken video game and recycles a few “old men are cantankerous and slow” jokes to death.
Speaking of the old men, the inclusion of Eddie and Milo makes for a half-decent juxtaposition on the nature of friendship. More specifically, the film attempts to address the idea of maturing relationships, contrasting the difference between high school and college relationships and pushes a message about overcoming stubbornness and communicating. Even if it is a little on-the-nose, it’s a positive and simple message and one you would expect from a family adventure film of this standing. Unfortunately, for the levels of tenderness that give the film a sense of development, many of these are largely abandoned in favour of loud, showy action sequences that lack a level of imagination. Frustratingly, I feel you could map the levels/stages of the respective game narratives in each film and they would align fairly easily. While this is something a wittier script could have utilised to explore the concept of rinse and repeat triple A video game titles, it is never really covered and leaves the film feeling a little familiar.
As with Welcome To The Jungle, The Next Level relies heavily on both the body-swapping antics and the sheer charisma of the cast and delivers extremely well, continuing to sell what is, admittedly, a retread of an incredibly flavourless story. Having said that, considering the calibre of the cast involved, no one is really fully utilised and the whole thing feels surprisingly safe. To focus on the new inclusions is an unusual one; in essence both Danny De Vito and Danny Glover are only in the film for a few short scenes but the remainder of the cast spend their time doing impressions of them. Again, this is the same for half the principal cast for both movies and falls heavily under the nature of body-swapping features, effectively allowing actors to depart their comfort zones and do something exceptionally silly or fun. The other major additions are Rory McCann as the villain and Awkwafina as a new playable character. Starting with McCann, Jurgen the Brutal is fairly unremarkable and very much a carbon-copy of the Van Pelt adversary from the previous release. There’s nothing terrible about the performance but the writing makes for an extremely uncompelling foe whose presence in the film could be easily substituted with anything else and it wouldn’t be missed. As we spend more time with Ming Fleetfoot, Awkwafina gets more to do but even then, it’s only slightly neurotic and restrained or the DeVito impression that is passed around and as someone who really enjoys Awkwafina as an actor and was truly blown away by her performance in The Farewell, this just feels like a missed opportunity for something more challenging.
As stated before, this film is very much more of the same and is arguably just as enjoyable as the last film. The main problem is that it doesn’t do much to push either the characters or the environment, relying on a handful of played-out jokes and circumstances. There’s also a rush to ensure a sense of peril and urgency, meaning that we are offered a handful of really dumb scenes that are solely designed to extraneously whittle down the character’s lives count, which is remarkably disappointing. But that’s not to say that what’s on offer isn’t good, far from it, Jumanji 3 proves itself to be more than competent, capable and captivating, it’s just a little unfortunate it didn’t do more with what it had.
13th December 2019
The Scene To Look Out For:
As an example of reprocessing the same material, this story calls for Ruby Roundhouse to fight in another dance battle, albeit this time in a huge brawl setting. I found myself a little bored with this because it didn’t land as well as the first time it was used. Where previously it had been a distraction method that turned into almost choreographed dance combat, this was just a fight in a room brought about by the use of the same cassette player and exact same song.
DeVito is great. Even when only present in a handful of scenes, just his character snapping about not needing any help then stumbling around wrecking everything around him just serves as a reminder of what an amazing physical comedian that man is.
“Getting old is a gift, I forget that sometimes”
In A Few Words:
“The Next Level is the textbook definition of resting on your laurels but will likely satisfy its target demographic”