Jumanji: The Next Level
Director – Jake Kasdan
Cast – Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Kare Gillan, Nick Jonas, Danny DeVito, Donald Glover
Hastily wrapped in Christmas colours and unenthusiastically conceived, Jumanji: The Next Level is more like a last-minute gift intended for a casual workplace acquaintance than a sequel to an almost billion-dollar hit.
Watch the Jumanji: The Next Level trailer here
But despite director Jake Kasdan’s relatively unambitious approach (and the involvement of a Jonas brother), The Next Level is a more enjoyable film than its immediate predecessor, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Although the boldest idea it can boast of, besides adding an extra layer of clothes on Karen Gillan, is contriving a situation that requires Dwayne Johnson to act — a move so mercurial it reminded me of Salman Khan’s Tubelight.
Had The Next Level not been the ensemble piece that it is, it would’ve been crushed by the monotony of The Rock’s one-note performance, if not his tendency to hog the limelight.
Even with a real-life reference to draw from — this time around, The Rock doesn’t channel a sulky teenager, but Danny DeVito instead — the highest-paid movie star in the world struggles to hold his own next to talented comedic actors such as Kevin Hart and Jack Black. There is precious little a man who has built a career on playing versions of himself on screen can do when his biggest weapons — that dazzling smile; that inquisitive eyebrow — are snatched from him.
Perhaps as a measure to inject some freshness into a tired premise, the film’s four credited writers attempt to perform a switcheroo. So when it is time for our teen protagonists to be sucked into the video game world of Jumanji once again, they do not return as the same characters they played in Welcome to the Jungle, but new ones altogether.
And as difficult as it may be for Johnson to shrug off his internalised swagger, Kevin Hart, on the other hand, effortlessly slips into Danny Glover’s famously stately screen presence. To have Hart sideline his iconic manic energy for the entirety of a film sounds almost as risky a move as demanding Johnson to deliver a performance. Thankfully, the success of one balances out the unevenness of the other.
Don’t get me wrong, Johnson is certainly given more than a few occasions to flex his pecs and whup some villains, as is probably stipulated in his contract, but this isn’t as relentlessly mind-numbing as something like Hobbs & Shaw. The set-pieces this time around are, perhaps thanks to a bigger budget, more thrillingly put together. Keeping with the video game conceit of the premise, the action in The Next Level resembles something you might experience in an Uncharted or a Tomb Raider adventure.
Particularly enjoyable is a sequence set on rickety mid-air bridges, which seamlessly integrates everything that makes Johnson’s Jumanji reboot films such lightweight fun — cartoonish choreography, quips, and cracking visual effects.
But I remember having a similar reaction to Welcome to the Jungle as well, and yet I had to revisit my review of that film before writing this one; that is how poorly it has aged. I have a suspicion that the finer (and even broader) details of The Next Level will quietly leak out of my brain within the week. And barring some sort of apocalypse in which only The Rock and his movies survive, I doubt I’ll watch Jumanji: The Next Level ever again.