StarWars. Cats. Frozen. Spies In Disguise. Jumanji 3. Little Women. Jojo Rabbit. 1917. Simply put: goodness, there’s a lot of bloody film’s coming out over the festive season. And that’s just scratching the surface. How did family’s pick which one to take themselves too – it’s too damn hard! Still, we should be thankful this time of year so we ain’t going to complain, so let’s open the cinematic advent calendar and head back to the jungle inside our souls.
Disillusioned by his life at college and his separation from girlfriend Martha (Morgan Turner) and friends Bethany (Madison Iseman) and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Spencer (Alex Wolff) is at a low point and whilst he has a supportive group around him is struggling to make sense of his life and decides that only being Dr Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) again will help him make sense of the mess. So, The Next Level becomes something a rescue mission to get Spencer out and thriving in the real world, but the game has other ideas: old and unstable, Jumanji is something of a trap itself. Up is down, left is right and avatars aren’t what they appear to be.
When Welcome To The Jungle arrived in 2017, expectations weren’t exactly high for the sequel that was two decades in the making, but its mix of action, humour, characters and visuals struck a chord with audiences helping it to become a near-billion dollar grosser despite opening alongside Star Wars: The Last Jedi (history repeats itself this month as well). With success comes expectation, with expectations comes pressure, to deliver something bigger, better, bolder – but, in this case, not necessarily darker – and with a franchise without any clear pathway it can become tricky to ask lighting to strike twice. Thankfully, it does. Well, it half does.
Again under the guidance of director Jake Kasdan and writers Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg, The Next Level does indeed crank up the difficulty of the game somewhat and manages to create, for the most part, something fresh and exciting with some typically avuncular comedic turns and some truly expansive action set-pieces that will knock your socks off. However, the body-swapping concept of this one (it’s not spoiler given the new identities are in the trailers) doesn’t quite connect in the same way we did with those of the first film. It’s hilarious to see Johnson and Hart mimicking Danny DeVito and Danny Glover for the first ten or fifteen minutes but after that nails on chalkboard annoying.
Double kudos, then, to Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Awkwafina for making up for the shortcomings with three tremendously entertaining turns with Black especially thriving in playing in multiple sandboxes with his impeccable timing and tornado-fuelled energy. As the film races to its “plunge the jewel inside, say the name of the game” finale, it’s puffs in cheeks a little as it struggles to keep up with itself but the sense of fun just about carries it through to its sweet conclusion.
We’ve plenty of offer this holiday season, whether big-budget extravaganzas that will lead to Santa having to work even harder this Christmas Eve, or some of the year’s awards hopefuls, but it’s safe to say Jumanji: The Next Level will be hard to beat for bums on seats. Not quite as good as it’s predecessor, but still a wild ride of fun and frolics.
Adventure, Comedy | USA, 2019 | 12A | 12th December 2019 (UK) | Sony Pictures Releasing |Dir.Jake Kasdan | Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Danny Devito, Danny Glover, Awkwafina