Story: High school is done, welcome to college, Jumanji survivors! While Martha, Bethany, and Fridge level up on education, Spencer feels like he’s floundering at NYU. But hey, it’s winter break; time to get together again! Good to see everyone, including Spencer’s persnickety grandfather Eddie, and Eddie’s (ex)BFF Milo. Aren’t those two adorable? Hey, where’d Spencer go…?
Genre I’d put it in: Satisfying Sequels
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Second sequel to the 1995 film. Based on the 1981 book by Chris Van Allsburg.
Gotta say: A bit predictable, but the cast and effects keep the shine on this franchise. This is one game worth playing again. And, perhaps, again…but I digress. Let me just start by saying that director Jake Kasdan knows the Jumanji mythology, and plays with our expectations to a delightful degree. As you’d expect from the role-playing games this series bases itself on, everything is dialed up in this new installment.
Action pieces are outrageously over-the-top, with stunning effects and heart-in-throat onscreen stunts. The Big Bad is bigger and badder, and played by none other than Rory “The Hound” McCann, resplendent in goth-y eyeliner and Mad Max-meets-LOTR armor. And while the four young players are now fast friends, there’s still plenty of wrenches thrown into their fellowship. Add in Dany DeVito and Danny Glover’s cantankerous Eddie and zen-like Milo as game n00bs, and the action is enjoyably nonstop as the plot pulls everyone forward.
Level deals with growing older, and how to come to terms with that. Some things change, some stay the same, but everything feels different to our characters. Eddie’s “[g]etting old sucks, don’t let anyone tell you different” at the beginning of the film lets us know that this sequel will be a bit deeper than Jungle‘s Breakfast Club-esque fish-out-of-water story. I loved Jungle, but I have to give the winning edge to Level because it its ability to balance comedic action and poignancy. When the story shifts emotional gears, it’s almost imperceptible. That’s damn good.
Oh okay; so there’s another reason Level is slightly better. Awkwafina. She plays a thief in Jumanji’s world, and she’s fabulous. Letting her run loose among the likes of Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Dwayne Johnson is delightful, and the casting director deserves a freakin’ Oscar for blending these talents. Karen Gillian gets my love too, but as she’s mostly playing it straight (for story reasons I won’t spoil here), Gillian doesn’t get to go off the chain as much as she did in Jungle. Still, she gets a dance-fighting sequence that shows she’s picked up quite a lot in-between this series’ films. I’m betting training for the MCU had a bit to do with that…
Things I didn’t particularly dig? Well, there’s not much to nitpick here, save for a few jokes that run a bit too long. Eddie and Milo take a bit too long to figure out what’s happening. While watching Dwayne Johnson channel a senior citizen is a hoot, after a half hour I expected a change, or at least a riff on the “old guy doesn’t get it” shtick. That said, what I loved the most about this film is how the “avatar actors” picked up on the little things about their younger/older counterparts. Johnson’s “HEH?” is a beautiful thing indeed, and Black’s ability to shift into “character” made my heart happy.
Looking for something to see this weekend that’s got lots of laughs, stunning visuals (seriously, holy blip the effects here are incredible) and a touch of sweet goo in it’s heart? Look no further. Hit the concessions hard – this is a popcorn and candy movie if ever there was one – and enjoy the show.
#Protip: There’s an end credits tidbit before the long credits roll, but there’s nothing (except a single chittering animal noise) when all the credits are finished. So enjoy that tidbit, then grab your coat and hit the road.