Published in City A.M., Dec ’19
As a die-hard defender of the 1994 original, and a some-time apologist for its 2017 remake, I was willing to forgive a lot of Jumanji: The Next Level. It is, once again, a body-swap comedy in which a group of teenagers become characters in a 1990s video game.
And while you don’t ask much of a film like this in terms of plot, it fails to deliver even on even the lowest of standards.
Like an old house that’s been stampeded through by an assortment of jungle animals, its foundations are shaky. At the beginning the main character decides to jump back into the game where he and his friends all nearly died in the previous film. Why? Because he just dumped his girlfriend for having too much fun at college and he wants to make himself feel better by running around in The Rock’s body for a bit. When his friends have to go in and save him, no one is angry, and we’re supposed to root for them getting back together.
At another point a character is re-introduced from the first remake, without any clue as to who he is or why anyone knows him. It’s not safe to assume that everyone is as familiar with the Jumanji canon as I am.
There are precisely two good things about this film: Jack Black and Danny DeVito. In a repeat of the best gag from the first remake, Black spends some time in character as a vacuous teenage girl, snaffling up most of the laughs. DeVito is typecast as an angry little granddad who is delighted to get an upgrade from his decrepit body; also moderately funny.
The art director also deserves a pat on the back for recreating classic 1990s video game environments, with an abundance of swimming pools and vaguely Aztec-themed stuff.
The Next Level isn’t bad enough to shake my love of this franchise, but my patience has been sorely tested.