Film review: ‘JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The original Jumanji from 1995 was a minor Gen X pop cultural touchstone. Often resembling a Spielberg film, it combined childhood escapist adventure, over-the-top special effects and the late Robin Williams patented brand of manic performance for a mostly entertaining adventure. Sniffing the Gen X nostalgia dollar and the instant merch potential of a film built around a video game, filmmakers have reincarnated Jumanj, first as 2016’s Welcome to The Jungle and now as Jumanji: The Next Level. While energetic and silly enough to hold young audience members’ attention, this latest instalment in what it clearly intended as lengthy franchise, may prove a chore for the adults accompanying the youngsters.

The story picks up where Welcome to The Jungle ended with four young adventurers: high school nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff), popular girl Bethany (Madison Iseman), football jock ‘Fridge’ (Ser’Darius Blain) and intellectual introvert Martha (Morgan Turner) having settled back into their regular teen lives. Things aren’t working out too well for nervous Spencer, though, as he pines for Martha, hates his supermarket job and is forced to share a room at Christmas with his grouchy grandpa Eddie (Danny de Vito). After the four teens, uncle Eddy and Eddy’s best bud Milo (Danny Glover) are lured back to the mysterious Jumanji video game they’re once again sucked into the dangerous alternate world.

As in Welcome to The Jungle, people appear in the Jumanji world as avatars who, in most cases look nothing like their real world selves. Eddie becomes the unlikely muscleman/archaeologist Dr Smolder Braverstone (Dwayne ‘the rock’ Johnson), Martha appears as hot pants-wearing Lara Croft lookalike Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan from Guardians of the Galaxy), Milo turns into bumbling zoologist Franklin Finbar (Kevin Hart), Fridge becomes a neurotic, out-of-shape palaeontologist Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black) while Bethany appears as a flying horse. In a convoluted and meandering plot, the group are sent to recover a magical gem from a very Game of Thrones-like villain, Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann).

Between Kevin Hart’s squeaky delivery, the unfunny banter between Hart, Jack Black and ‘the Rock’ and the skull-crunching volume of the soundtrack, this film becomes grating. Also, the alleged comedy and the various characters’ sub-plots are meant to work off the personalities and relationships between the real-life players but because it’s hard to recall who’s who these mostly fail. This is made worse by the fact that, in this film, the players can swap between avatars.

Technically, the film is reasonably well constructed with a few decent effects-driven action sequences although some of these might be a little intense for littlies – particularly an attack by savage mandrills. While much of the film has been conjured on a computer there a few attractive landscape shots in deserts and jungles.

There’s enough activity in this film to hold audiences’ attention but its lack of clarity and heart makes it an empty and noisy experience.

Nick’s rating: **1/2

Genre: Adventure/ fantasy/ comedy.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Jake Kasden.

Release date: 26th Dec 2019.

Running time: 123 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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