The rebooted Jumanji franchise was an unexpected joy to watch and one of my favourite comedies from recent years. Remixing the classic tale into a parody video game story was a huge amount of fun and allowed the producers to cast an all-star team of actors in roles that were simultaneously outside of their norm whilst playing to their own stereotypes. It was great and surprisingly funny 😂 A sequel, therefore, was inevitable, but I had serious doubts that they could pull off round two.
Well, whilst The Next Level doesn't quite live up to either of its predecessors (I still feel like the original movie is part of the same canon, making this a trilogy now), it still holds up pretty darn well. The movie made me laugh many, many times, the cast are still excellent, and the skewering of video game design is still largely on point. The plot is perhaps a little less interesting, but I thought they did a good job creating a semi-believable reason for the kids to go back into the game having already almost died once, and the addition of some new characters kept the plot fresh and presented a whole new raft of options for humour.
Speaking of, whilst it was great to see Danny DeVito and Danny Glover – and both Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson did a fantastic job of impersonating them for most of the film (oh look, Hart playing a slightly different character for once, I think I have to eat some words from my review of the prior film 🙄) – it was Awkwafina who stole the show. Whilst the other actors occasionally felt like a blend of the "real" person and avatar that they were playing, Awkwafina nailed the impersonations throughout. She was an incredibly believable teenage boy when she was first introduced, and then her transfer to becoming DeVito was absolutely perfect.
In fact, for that reason alone the magical character-swapping water would have been a worthwhile addition, but I also thought it allowed for some really fun storytelling as well. Seeing the main characters from the prior movie with different "players" (except for Karen Gillan) was a brilliant move, but letting them revert before the final showdown also felt really intelligent. It kept things fresh whilst rewarding fans. Initially, I felt a little bad for Gillan in terms of being the only one reprising her role, but again the magic water gave her a brief period getting to be Fridge, which was fun and also showed that perhaps she was ideally cast for the original role, but not any of the others. She wasn't bad, but I think she's a lot better as Martha.
The result is an adventurous, extremely fun movie that expands the initial premise well, creates some new moments of brilliance all its own, and is well worth the watch. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the final reveal at the end, but maybe they'll pull off a hat trick with the reboot after all. Plus, of course they get points for turning Glover into an immortal black Pegasus. Major points 🐴