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[Herald Review] ‘Jumanji: Next Level,’ plays it safe in funny, unoriginal sequel

Years back when it was announced that a sequel to “Jumanji” would be made, there were skeptics. While the 1995 adventure film had received mixed reviews upon release, its legacy grew over time to claim a place among nostalgic family films.

Despite some concerns the sequel would fail to recapture the imagination and spectacle of the original, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” was a pleasant surprise with a creative premise, lighthearted fun and plenty of visual effects.

Its upcoming sequel, “Jumanji: The Next Level,” while fun, appears to be content -- for the most part -- on repeating the proven formula on a larger scale rather than to take chances and be something unique.

“Jumanji: The Next Level” (Sony Pictures Korea)
“Jumanji: The Next Level” (Sony Pictures Korea)

The film kicks off some time after the events of the last film. Spencer (Alex Wolff) is once again struggling with a lack of confidence and having trouble with girlfriend Martha (Morgan Turner), unable to shake off his self-doubt and feelings of insignificance.

Longing to experience the power and confidence he had as his video game avatar Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) in Jumanji, he starts fixing the busted game and gets sucked in. His friends Martha, Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) jump in after him, only this time accompanied by Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his estranged former best friend Milo (Danny Glover).

Once again reprising their roles as Bravestone, “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), they soon find that the game is not quite as they remember it.

A slight problem with the film is that it can get a bit confusing at first. The first film followed four characters with four video game avatars in a pretty straightforward comedic adventure story. But this one starts off with five and expands to seven.

What’s more, the film mixes up who is in which avatar, and shakes it up even further as the film continues. I had to pause and keep track of who is who and check how many lives each avatar had along the way, and I’m quite sure the film got the number of lives for one of the characters wrong.

It is not like the movie requires one to put on a thinking cap or anything, but it is not hard to imagine little children getting confused. This is “Jumanji,” a series about a magic game that sucks people in and spits out disasters aimed at entertaining children for the most part. There should be no confusion at all.

But this is a very minor issue. Old-man jokes of Johnson and Hart were stupid but funny, and seeing Jack Black with the soul of a black man was the first time during the film that I burst out in laughter. It wasn’t quite as hilarious as in the previous film when he played a teenage girl, but enjoyable nonetheless.

The interaction between the characters, the hilarity of the body-switching element, which was meant to be the selling-point of the first, were still there and fairly good -- just not as fresh as it had been when “Welcome to the Jungle” first came out.

The visual effects were back, and though there didn’t seem to be much of an upgrade, the producers attempted to create a new feel for the world inside the game by adding new environs like a desert and frozen mountains.

One thing that I thought it did better was that it felt more like playing a video game compared to the first, with various stages, challenges, interactions with nonplayable characters, and so on. This was refreshing, although not much else was.

Overall, it is a standard sequel with a somewhat charming world and not-bad-at-all acting. Over the years, filmgoers have been spoiled with seeing sequels blossoming beyond expectation, but sometimes you get just what you expected: nothing special, just OK.

“Jumanji: The Next Level” opens in local theaters Wednesday.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)
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