Jumanji: The Next Level

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL. Starring: Karen Gillan, Dwayne Johnson, Alex Wolff, Ser’Darius Blain, Marian Hinkle, Madison Iseman, Jack Black, Danny De Vito, Danny Glover, Morgan Turner and Rory McCann. Directed by Jake Kasdan. Rated PG (Mild fantasy violence, coarse language and crude humour). 123 min.

This American fantasy-adventure film is another sequel to “Jumanj” (1995), and follows “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (2017).

Jumanji is a dangerous game that exposes those who play it to immense risk. This film has the Jumanji team returning to rescue one of their own. The word “Jumanji” references a children’s book of the same name written in 1981 by author, Chris Van Allsburg. The last Jumanji movie concluded with the Jumanji game destroyed, and this film continues the franchise.

Jumanji films have a dedicated, popular following, and the plot line of this movie expands the core idea of the original 1995 film: the playing of a particular video propels one immediately into a fantasy world in a threatening way. It is a clever adventure series where the action-comedy parallels events in an adventure-video game. The action is presented as real, and always with wit.

As in the previous two Jumanji movies, a group of teenagers end up playing a video game that draws them physically into the game setting. When they do so, they literally become incorporated into the video events, and are pulled bodily into a fantasy where they become Avatars in the forms that they have chosen. As in the two previous Jumanji films, players must complete the game to survive, and they are allowed three attempts to do that.

Unknown to his friends, high school student, Spencer (Alex Wolff) has returned home for the holidays and comes across a Jumanji console which another member of the group was supposed to have destroyed. Spencer tries to repair the video system in the basement of his grandfather’s house. Spencer’s friends, Martha (Morgan Turner), Bethany (Madison Iseman), and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) arrive and find the video game running, but no Spencer. Spencer has tried to fix the video-game before anyone has selected their Avatars. Spencer’s grandfather, Eddie (Danny De Vito) and his friend Milo (Danny Glover) arrive and get sucked into the game - also, without an Avatar. The plot familiarises Eddie and Milo with their in-game Avatars, shifts Avatar identity a lot, locates Spencer, and nearly everyone manages to escape from Jumanji, as they entered into it.

Jumanji films use Avatar formatting to entertain, and different actors play the same characters in the “game” world and in the “real world”. Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan are Avatars in the game world, and Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman and Ser’ Darius Blaine are characters in the real world. Actors have returned to do this sequel - Karen Gillan, Jack Black, and Dwayne Johnson play the Avatars of Martha, Fridge, and Eddie, and Marian Hinkle again plays Spencer’s mom. The new villain of Jumanji is Jurgan the Brutal (Rory McCann), a ruthless warlord, who killed the parents of Eddie’s avatar long ago, but in this movie he lacks punch as a terrible villain.

This version of the Jumanji franchise maintains the Avatar format and claims freshness from the swapping of characters and the addition of new ones. The film shows characters maturing; it involves good role acting; and it has some philosophical messages to think more about - like the virtue of “belongingness”, and the need to maintain one’s real identity. The film is entirely escapist in character and uses yet again the well-tested Jumanji fantasy domain. The Avatar format in this film delivers more complexity to the film’s plot-line than in the two previous films, but it doesn’t really bring the franchise, as advertised, to “another level”.

The movie as a whole is impressive Christmas fare. It gives what the viewer expects, delivers expectations in proven adventure format, and entertains in comic-adventure style. The final credits suggest there will be a different kind of complexity to characterise further sequels, and there is little doubt that there is an audience out there keen to see what will happen next.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian  Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Sony Pictures

Released December 26th., 2019

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