What’s the best thing to do to a movie that did relatively well? Make a sequel!
This writer dies a little inside when this happens. When you have a good story there are specific elements that have to be in place to make that magic happen. It’s a combination of character, location, and problem that makes the story come alive and makes an audience excited to watch.
I’ve harped on this a few times before (ahem, Frozen 2, I’m looking at you). When a story has a satisfying ending and everyone is happy, it leaves little room to add more to it. The big bad has been defeated and there’s literally nothing else to do that makes sense. This is true for this sequel. They ended the first movie in the Jumanji series with the characters destroying the game console, literally breaking the chance of anyone to ever be trapped in the game ever again.
Which is why writing this sequel would be a challenge. We reenter the story when the characters who were originally high school students are now in college. With that single choice, all the problems our teenagers had are now being faced by adults and that change in attitude shifts the meaning of everything.
I only half liked the movie and that’s because the three main actors are are some of my favorites. Jack Black, Dwayne Johnson, and Karen Gillan can come to dinner anytime and I would be ecstatic.
The movie itself suffers from script writers literally inventing problems just to be able to create a new movie. With our main characters now older it introduces a whole host of adult problems. No longer is the biggest problem about embracing who you are and rocking your best self, now it’s more about not being afraid to maintain a long distance relationship and with the inclusion of some new characters, worrying about bad decisions made years ago.
This is where I think the largest misstep happened. The main character Alex has a crazy grandpa who is staying at his house as he recovers from hip surgery. He and his old friend turned enemy get sucked into the game. It was supposed to be funny, but like I said, this movie was geared toward a teenage audience and spending a huge amount of time dealing with older people acting in an over the top stereotypical elderly way really got on my nerves. Maybe that’s because I’m not a teen, not sure. All I know is the ideas and imagination of the first movie came across as truly fresh and funny and in the end I liked it.
For Jumanji 2, yes there was a good message at the end. All the characters got their happy ever afters, again. But to get there they had to go through a lot of the same stuff as the first movie, but this time with the grandparents in tow. It led to lots of awkward that was hard to find funny. My kids were amused by it, but clearly didn’t like it as much as the first one by far.
If you loved the Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and you want to recapture that magic for another movie, The Next Level will get you 60% of the way there. There is the same body switching hijinks and the same puzzle solving mentality that came with the first movie enough so that it’s an okay watch.
If you were hoping for something that elevates the “Welcome to the Jungle” experience, you will probably be disappointed. Most of the story is the same problems as the original but compounded by needing to explain it to these older characters who just can’t get a clue no matter how hard it’s thrown at them.
I give it Jumanji: the Next Level 3/5, a solid Meh.