MOVIE REVIEW: Jumanji sequel takes fun to the next level
JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL
Three and a half stars
Director: Jake Kasdan
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart
Running: time 123 minutes
Verdict: Value-added sequel
A MAN-eating python, a giant ostrich stampede across parched desert dunes and a vertiginous chase sequence involving a series of moving rope bridges … it's game on from the get-go in this fast-paced action comedy.
By upgrading the original film's premise to a video game in his 2017 Jumanji reboot, Welcome To The Jungle, director Jake Kasdan already had the scaffolding in place for a value-added sequel.
From the moment his characters returned the Jaguar's Eye to its rightful place in the statue, they were ready for The Next Level, in which their avatars gain extra strengths - diminutive zoologist Franklin "Mouse" Finbar (Kevin Hart), for example, can now converse with animals as well as identify them.
The new game also opens up a number of different worlds for Spencer (Alex Wolff), Bethany (Madison Iseman), Martha (Morgan Turner) and Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain) to discover.
There was just one remaining problem for the screenwriters to solve in order to set events in motion.
Now that they are college students, why on earth would the characters return to such a wild and unpredictable place?
The Next Level nails that, too.
After spending so much time in fearless archaeologist Dr Smolder Bravestone's (Dwayne Johnson) walking boots, Spencer is finding it hard to go back to his ordinary life as an insecure, allergy-prone student.
So when he returns home for the holidays to find his abrasive grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) sharing his bedroom following a hip operation, Spencer rashly decides to re-enter the game in an attempt to get his mojo back. His mates reluctantly follow.
Not all of them get their original avatars back - especially since Eddie and his estranged business partner Milo (Danny Glover) have accidentally tagged along for the ride.
Hart has a lot of fun with his longwinded new persona and Johnson's character also gets a fresh lease of life from his cantankerous new alter ego.
Jack Black's tubby cartographer, Professor Sheldon Oberon, grapples with different body image issues in The Next Level, but nobody would dare mess around with Karen Gillan's kick-arse heroine Ruby Roundhouse.
Has there ever been a body swap comedy with this many moving parts?
Adding further interest are several new players - Awkwafina's pickpocket Ming Fleetfoot, a non-human character that works well in terms of the storyline and a ruthless war lord named Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann) who is far less campy, and far more scary, than Bobby Cannavale's evil archaeologist from the first film.
To retrieve the Falcon's Heart necklace the evil war lord has stolen from its rightful guardians, dooming Jumanji to prolonged drought, the players must travel to his stone fortress in the icy mountains of the north where the climactic battle takes place in a steampunk airship.
Kasdan delivers exactly what he promises in Jumanji: The Next Level, with the help of some well-judged visual effects and great casting.
In cinemas now.