Sunday, December 29, 2019

Jumanji: The Next Level review

Ah, Jumanji. What started in 1981 as a really classy and artful picture book by Chris Van Allsburg (who also wrote The Polar Express), then turned into a decent 1995 movie starring Robin Williams, and was reinvented as a surprisingly funny and pretty darn good 2017 movie, is now being released as a popcorn sequel with some great moments and an insignificantly paltry plot. 

The only real spoiler I’ll give about Jumanji: The Next Level is the basic conceit of the movie, which is that many of the characters switch their avatars. This provides some really nice fresh takes on these characters. For example, it’s great fun to watch Kevin Hart (Franklin Finbar) slow down his speech considerably and channel Danny Glover. And then to switch to Martha’s character (normally played by Karen Gillan), well that was a stroke of genius. I could do without The Rock’s forced New Yawk accent, but he is really funny channeling Danny DeVito’s character: clueless, lost, and a bit senile. It’s neat to see The Rock poke fun at himself and play against character.

In addition to the great acting (Hart, Gillan, The Rock, and Jack Black make a great comedic team!), the jokes in Jumanji are nonstop. My family genuinely laughed throughout the movie -- and laughed loudly! There is good humor mined from the avatar switcheroos, but also from the action and some of the new “level up” aspects of the game. If you can walk away from a movie feeling like you did a bunch of crunches because your sides hurt from laughing so much, the film is worth the price of admission.

However, the movie suffers from a predictable plot, subpar character development, and just mediocre thematic concepts. Nobody expects Jumani to be particularly deep. Nobody is going to this movie expecting a deep character analysis, intricate themes, or even to be able to relate to the characters on a deep emotional level. The two new characters (old guys Eddie and Milo) have a side story that is hamfistedly explained, and equally hamfistedly solved. It’s unnecessary, and it’s kind of painful to watch. And maybe just a little disconcerting to watch the character development happen through no less than six different actors. That takes some skill that Jumanji just doesn’t have. Even though it’s the next level, it’s a step down from the surprisingly good Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle from two years ago.

If you’re going to see Jumanji: The Next Level, expect popcorn and cotton candy: entertaining and enjoyable, but lacking depth and substance. The plot is not memorable, but it doesn’t really need to be. The characters are simple, and that’s okay. But the film is good fun and it’s got some great moments. And really, isn’t that enough from a simple movie about a video game fantasy?

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