It was back in 2017 when we were transported back into the strange world of Jumanji, 22 years on from the original. Where that famous first film brought the game into the real world, Welcome to the Jungle took real world people and threw them into the game, and now we are back with The Next Level and we are back into Jumanji, now much larger with new lands and new villains. Set a year or so after Welcome to the Jungle, we see Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser-Darius Blain), Bethany(Madison Iseman) and Martha (Morgan Turner) reunited over the Christmas holidays. Whilst everyone seems happy and settled into everything, Spencer is struggling with it all. Missing his Jumanji alter ego Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), he digs out the damaged game and returns to the jungle, and his friends have to follow.
Not only has Jumanji itself grown with the addition of desert and snow covered lands, but so has the cast size as we are introduced to a number of new characters for this sequel, including Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito). Struggling to let go of the past and the business he once run with old friend Milo (Danny Glover), Eddie finds himself drawn into the game alongside the youngsters and Milo, leading to an adventure he could never have imagined. The addition of DeVito and Glover as Eddie and Milo adds a new level of humour to the film as we watched these two older characters trying to understand not only the magic of suddenly being in a game, but the technology of it all.
We are also introduced to Ming (Awkwafina), a new playable character within the Jumanji world and reunited with the now grown up Alex (Colin Hanks) who thought he had finally managed to escape the game until Bethany draws him into the Spencer rescue mission. For anyone who has seen Welcome to the Jungle and gotten used to seeing each real world character playing a certain Jumanji world character, you better prepare for some changes as The Next Level plays a good game of switcharoo putting them all in new shoes. Not only does this make for a great story, but also allows for some clever and funny moments as everyone comes to terms with playing someone new in the all too real video game world.
With the talents of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black coming back together, we are treated to a natural feeling chemistry and a natural flow of comedy between the group, all without distracting from the action genre. The character switching makes for great comedy by putting the real world characters into completely mismatched bodies. We see DeVito in the body of Johnson, Blain in the body of Black, the body switching list goes on and on and it all creates some genuinely funny moments with some clever dialogue throughout.
Rory McCann joins the cast as Jurgen the Brutal, the new villain that has plunged the magical land of Jumanji into darkness. A believable villain that creates some great action scenes with his hordes of soldiers and gangs of killer animals. Whilst the film is a comedy, and a very good one at that, it is an action film at it’s heart and some fast paced scenes propel the action forward at a nice pace. That being said, it did feel like it took a little while to get going but once the characters were in the game and given their mission, things started moving at a much better pace.
The special effects are impressive in the action scenes, and both the real world and video game world characters are likeable. For an high energy action film, it is easy watching and entertaining, all whilst managing not to overcomplicate things. Jumanji: The Next Level is great viewing for families with older children, nice and easy for a quiet afternoon.