Jumanji: The Next Level Means Game Over For The Princess Bride (Movie Review)

The follow-up to Sony’s 2017 surprise smash hit, Jumanji: The Next Level is a clever expansion pack for the Jumanji universe. The formula still works, but it’s the chemistry of the cast and fantastic pacing that makes this series a new holiday favorite. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillian, and Jack Black are all game to hit start along with new addition Awkwafina. Should audiences do the same over the holiday break? Heck yes! Jumanji: The Next Level is big, bombastic, and, when it needs to be, kinda sweet.

Set a few years after the events of the first film, Spencer (Alex Wolff), Bethany (Madison Iseman), Fridge (Ser’ Darius Blain), and Martha (Morgan Turner) are home for the holidays. Out of high school and into college – or in Spencer’s case, into the workforce as a Rite-Aid-type clerk, the gang decides to meet for brunch at Nora’s, a local diner. That diner was once owned by Spence’s grandpa, Eddie (Danny DeVito), and his estranged pal Milo (Danny Glover).

The thing is, Spence is in a holiday funk. He’s feeling like the loser working at a dead-end job, while Martha, his former girlfriend, is traveling, Bethany is making the world a better place, and Fridge is just an all-round good guy with seemingly no earthly concerns. So, in a sorta bold, for sure stupid move, Spencer cracks open that old console from the 90s that only plays one Jumanji cartridge. And well, ya know…

Soon enough, most of the gang is back in the game Tron-style, with Grandpa Eddie and Milo joining the original trio. With this addition of two old codgers, The Next Level evolves into a more sentimental yet no less entertaining adventure. Putting another spin on the body-swapping concept, Johnson gets to play a rascally old geezer (DeVito) while Hart is the kindly but slow as molasses old man (Glover). Hart has never been better. The humor is wildly broad. Gillian and Black also get to ramp up the jokes for the cheap seats when a “character switch” situation comes up.

Jumanji has never been a subtle series, but seeing Hart be an old man who has too much to say as a horde of killer ostriches approach at 40 mph is pretty darn funny, with an endless desert backdrop matching the scale. Ditto, Johnson acting up what it would be like to be an old-timer who used a cane but now can dispatch baddies with single punches – and get an NPC lady in a red dress’ attention via his smolder feature. Overall, the main cast doesn’t disappoint, even if the somewhat formulaic script does.

Like real a videogame franchise, this series is leaps and bounds better than the forgettable original flick from the 90s. Placed in the retro 16-bit world, both Welcome to the Jungle and The Next Level know what kind of movies they are and are much better for it. Plus, having an NPC repeat mission objectives never gets old.

The MVP award goes to Awkwafina, who has a ball taking on multiple personas. Gillian gets to play two characters this time around as well, and she’s terrific as always yet, she’s also saddled with a lot of exposition on how videogames work (Although this probably will help your older relatives accompanying you to the multiplex over the holidays.) The Second MVP award goes to a majestic, quite lively black horse that is so important as a character that it has its own character poster.

In terms of the game-within-the-film’s story, the Hound from HBO’s Game of Thrones (Rory McCann) plays the Jurgen the Brutal. He’s the bad guy who stole some gem… blah blah blah… ultimate power stuff. Jurgen’s lair, an immense snow-bound castle, is enormous but hollow. Really, despite the aforementioned cool ostrich chase and a neat platform sequence involving mandrills jumping on rickety-roped bridges, the look and feel of this sequel is… fine.

Still, as a holiday flick with big stars and a gimmick that still works, I’ll take my broad comedy about retro gaming over The Princess Bride. Both films rely on a grandpa and grandson dynamic to mine for the feels while poking fun at the kind of adventure/mayhem kids adore. Director Jake Kasdan’s two Jumanji films are fully alive, only stilted when in service of a gag. I can’t say the same for Rob Reiner’s beloved film. The Next Level is by no means high art, but I laughed a lot and look forward to the next next level…

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