Jumanji: The Next Level (Movie Review)
It’s Time To Leave This Film Franchise Behind.
About the Film
For kids of the 90s, the original Jumanji (1995) holds a special place in our childhood. The nostalgia is all the stronger due to the late Robin William’s tragic death. Against all odds, the 2017 sequel, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, did the unthinkable by injecting fresh life into the franchise. The 2017 film was a surprise box office juggernaut, earning nearly a billion dollars at the box office and garnering generally favorable reviews. Both of these results meant that another sequel was inevitable. Unfortunately, like a classic arcade game, eventually the quarters run out. Jumanji: The Next Level might be one of the worst films of the year.
For the sake of full disclosure, I did not see Jumanji: Welcome the Jungle. Although the concept of updating the original board game as a video game intrigued me, the trailers did not get my juices going. The Next Level goes to great lengths to makes sure that audience members like me are not left behind. So much so, that by the second or third time reiterating the same mechanics of the fictional video game, the explanations become tedious.
Jumanji: The Next Level is an unabashedly gimmicky movie. The “body-swapping” premise is the driving force—perhaps the only force—in the film. The “plot” is essentially a string of Saturday Night Live sketches that play off of this central concept. The main twist this time is the inclusion of Danny DeVito and Danny Glover, who enter the video game avatars represented by Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Kevin Hart. Despite the potential for this twist, it simply does not work. The humor falls completely flat; frequently obnoxious and rarely endearing. The filmmakers simply do not have any clever ideas for what to do with the gimmick, and essentially repeat the same handful of gags over and over, using the same jokes in Act 3 as they did in Act 1.
The original Jumanji was about a board game, so perhaps the best way to summarize my feelings on this film is to use a board game analogy. Anyone who has played a game like Monopoly knows the excitement and fun that comes at the game’s start, when players are snatching up prime properties. Well, Jumanji: The Next Level is akin to a Monopoly game three hours in when tempers are flared, half the players are bankrupt, and everyone just wants the game to finally end.
On the Surface—(Profanity, Sexual content, violence, etc.).
Profanity: Lots. Far more than I expected for what should be a family film. Among with many blatant cuss words (the camera zooming in on a character’s face as they say, “Oh S—!!” etc.) there are a handful of instances of the Lord’s name being used in vain (“Oh my G—!” or “J— C—!”). When you need to rely on constant profanity for your humor, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Sexuality: The body swapping gimmick appears to set up a LGBTQ moment as a boyfriend/girlfriend are both in female avatars, but thankfully the film does not go down that path. There is one unnecessary attempt at humor that involves characters talking about male genitalia and another about female breasts. Karen Gillan’s character bears her midriff for most of the film, although the film does not overly sexualize this.
Violence: Characters “die” in various ways, but the violence is played for humor and, as a video game, there is no actual blood or death. There is one scene where the villain is feeding meat to animals, only for the characters to realize that the “meat” is actually a human. The scene is played lightly but is still gross for younger viewers.
Beneath the Surface— (Themes, philosophical messages, worldview, etc.)
- Forgiveness? Acceptance? Growing Old? Working Together as a Team? Something? Nothing?
Jumanji: The Next Level is largely a film about nothing. Like many real-world video games, the movie attempts to offer up 2 hours of entertainment without being weighed down by too much substance. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this. The notion that every movie must have a deeper message or moral to justify its existence is misguided. The problem with The Next Level is that it sacrifices any intellectual or emotionally stimulating ideas for simple entertainment value, but it’s just not very entertaining.
The film does make the occasional half-hearted stab at some emotional resonance and heart. The adventure provides the two “old timers” (DeVito and Glover) to set aside their years-long grudge and finally learn to forgive each other (although it’s not very clear why, beyond simply spending the 2 hour runtime together). Also, the fact that these heartwarming conversations are happening through various other “avatar” characters with bad accents (Dwayne Johnson being the guiltiest culprit here) makes these moments silly (sometime intentionally so), rather than touching or meaningful.
In the end, if Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle demonstrated that the franchise still had a few lives left, then Jumanji: The Next Level shows that its finally game over for this movie series. Jumanji is a supposedly a game for those who “want to leave the world behind”, but all I felt was relief when the end credits rolled, and I could leave this snooze-fest of a movie behind.
Recommendation: If you loved the first sequel, maybe you will find some enjoyment here too. Otherwise, save yourself the ticket money and buy someone a Christmas present with it.