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Nick Jonas, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Dwayne Johnson, Awkwafina and Kevin Hart star in Jumanji: The Next Level.Frank Masi/Sony Pictures

  • Jumanji: The Next Level
  • Directed by Jake Kasdan
  • Written by Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg
  • Starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan
  • Classification PG
  • 123 minutes

Rating:

3 out of 4 stars

Ask any child of the nineties and they’ll tell you that the original Robin Williams’s Jumanji was a masterpiece. So of course, in 2017 they expanded the Jumanji universe, replacing the supernatural board game from the original with a video game in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan. I wanted to dislike Welcome to the Jungle because it represented the nostalgia cash grab major studios are so eager for, but unfortunately I loved it. I streamed it over a year ago on a lazy afternoon and still find myself telling other millennials, “You know, the new Jumanji is actually really fun!” Upon hearing they were making yet another film – Jumanji: The Next Level – I winced. But with Welcome to the Jungle grossing almost a billion dollars worldwide, the potential for another box-office and critical success was clearly too good to pass up.

What’s new in theatres and streaming this week, including Michael Bay’s enthralling 6 Underground and the unnecessary but entertaining Jumanji: The Next Level

The Next Level brings its predecessor’s cast back together. Having remained friends after the events of the first film, which took place over a year ago, the team is now in college. It’s the Christmas holidays, and everyone’s back home and meeting for brunch. Spencer (Alex Wolff) finds his college experience to be lonelier than that of his friends. Going home to his grandfather Eddie (played by Danny DeVito, whose every moment on screen is a delight of physical humour), Spencer reveals how unhappy and unsure he is of where he stands in his friend group, including with his girlfriend Martha (Morgan Turner). His grandfather is also on uncertain terms with his own former business partner and best friend, Milo (Danny Glover).

Unable to find Spencer after he ditches brunch, his friends all end up in – you guessed it – the Jumanji video game (which should have been destroyed in the last movie, right?), only this time, with Milo and Eddie in tow. Their avatars are once again Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), Professor Sheldon (Black), Franklin (Hart) and Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan).

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Karen Gillan is back as Ruby Roundhouse.Frank Masi/Sony Pictures

I feared The Next Level would be too similar to Welcome to the Jungle, because how could it not be? There can’t be that many ways for them to go through Jumanji, and the novelty of seeing the cast act as teens in the bodies of adult video-game characters couldn’t possibly be as funny the second time. While conceptually, it’s the same movie (they have three lives to beat Jumanji or they are trapped in the game), the circumstances are different enough that it doesn’t feel like too much of a cheap attempt at a sequel.

Once again under the direction of Jake Kasdan, Black playing the avatar of both a college football player and, at a different point, a teen girl, is still funny. Gillan shines as a teenager who’s found confidence following the events of the last movie. Johnson and Hart recapture their chemistry as a big man/small man comedy duo, playing the avatars of DeVito and Glover, respectively. The old men can’t grasp the concept of being in a video game, a gag so obvious it risks going on for too long but ends just soon enough. And Awkwafina, playing a new addition to the game world, makes it feel fresh.

The Next Level works precisely for the same reasons why Welcome to the Jungle did. It’s never boring, it’s genuinely funny in a way that’s family friendly but still clever, and the cast’s chemistry is outstanding – it just works. It doesn’t matter that The Next Level is more or less predictable or that the stakes never feel quite real because you know it’s a family movie. The film fits in enough fun, action and heartfelt emotion to reel the audience in for another round.

Jumanji: The Next Level opens Dec. 13

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