In “Jumanji: The Next Level,” Our gang of friends are back in New Hampshire for the holidays and their step into the adult world isn’t all glory. I mean, after you’ve saved a whole world, the mundane of the real world seems sort of flat and safe and ordinary. I’m under five-foot and a woman, but I would also love to be a six-foot-five with 260 pounds of muscle that is Dwayne Johnson.
It isn’t surprising at all that Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff) finds it hard to give up the game that gave him an adventure with an avatar who has no weaknesses. Spencer’s time at the New York University is also time away from his girlfriend Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner). Spencer spends time restocking shelves. Once back home in Brantford, New Hampshire for the holidays, he hesitates to meet up with his old friends, friends he made through the game Jumanji.
Refresher for ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’
For a quick refresher, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” begins with guy named Alex Vreeke (Mason Guccione) receiving a game that his father found on the beach. But this is 1996 and board games are boring. The game transforms into a video game overnight and, intrigued, Alex begins to play and mysteriously disappears. Twenty years later, four Brantford High School kids end up in detention: Spencer (Alex Wolff), his ex-friend Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Se’Darius Blain), Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman), and Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner). They find the game and are sucked into it. Spencer turns into archeologist Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) who has no weaknesses (Johnson). Fridge becomes the short zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha becomes martial arts expert Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Bethany becomes a cartographer Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black).
The non-player character Nigel Billingsley (Rhys Darby) tells them their mission: To find the evil archeologist Russell Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), take back the Jaguar’s eye, a magical jewel he has stolen, and return it to the shrine and declare out loud: “Jumanji.” At that point, the real world will return to the time before they started the game and they’ll return home. During their mission, they’ll meet Alex who has become Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough (Nick Jonas).
Of course, the team succeeds. Back in the real world, they meet Alex who has grown up (Colin Hanks) and now had a daughter named Bethany. Spencer and Fridge are friends again. Martha and Spencer become a couple. Bethany becomes more interested in others. They’ve all gained something, but they all do not want to return and Fridge uses a bowling ball to destroy the game.
‘Jumanji: The Next Level’
Yet, we know that this game can transform itself. And if you’ve played any video games, you know that once you’ve successfully completed the first level, there’s another level. In that level things get harder. Life is like that, too.
In real life, Spencer is sharing his room with his grandfather, Eddie Gilpin (Danny DeVito), who’s recovering from hip surgery. His friend, Milo (Danny Glover), wants to meet with him, but Eddie holds an old grudge. Eddie tells Spencer: “Growing old sucks.”
Instead of meeting up with his friends, Spencer takes out the game and goes down to his basement. Later, his friends Martha, Fridge and Bethany go looking for him downstairs while upstairs Eddie and Milo have breakfast. Martha, Fridge, Eddie and Milo transported to Jumanji. Eddie’s avatar is Dr. Smolder Braveheart (Dwayne Johnson). Milo’s avatar is Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart). This all doesn’t sit well with Fridge who is now Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black). While Braveheart now has a weakness (Switchblade). Oberon has a new skill (Geometry). Nigel drops in and tells them their new mission: Jurgen the Brutal has stolen a magical gem, the Falcon Heart, and means to sell it. The team must retrieve the gem before it is sold and the gem must be exposed to the sun while the person holding it declares, “Jumanji.” Without the gem, the land will become fallow and the people will have no joy. You know, the usual.
Yes…like any video game there’s a set format, so this might seem repetitive. But as you go up a level, you know there will also be new challenges and new characters–a new villain, Jurgen and his horde, and new allies, a horse named Cyclone and the pickpocket and burglar, Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina) . The first problem this team encounters is although the avatar teams are the same, the people from the real world are different. Eddie and Milo are from a different generation and unfamiliar with video games and avatars so even explaining the situation comes upon a cultural and generational barrier. Eddie and Milo’s personalities and infirmities prevent them from being as effective as the Spencer-Braveheart and Fridge-Sheldon combo. Spencer has too many senior moments and Fridge tends to meander before getting to the point. Think TMI or your favorite senior relating encyclopedic knowledge at the pace of a tortoise as you hurtle toward death. And while you can die and come back (remember those sky drop moments) in Jumanji, you only have three chances to die and come back.
You might be wondering how are wonderful Alex-Jefferson and Bethany will return but that’s part of the pleasure of this new scenario. The casting of DeVito and Awkwafina is especially inspired. Bebe Neuwirth returns as Nora Shepherd from the 1995 “Jumanji” (She was Peter and Judy’s aunt).
I did have a question about the usage of “herd” to describe a group of ostriches and those ostriches looked more like cassowary because of that large nodule on their head. Here’s some information ostriches. As people from South Pasadena know, ostriches can be trained to draw carts and even be ridden. The San Diego Zoo uses the word “flock” for ostriches as does the Ostrich Research Farm. Cassowary have blue necks and someone and dubbed them “the world’s most dangerous bird.” Britannica has a list of dangerous birds.
I saw “Jumanji: The Next Level” at the CGV Cinemas Movie Theater (621 S. Western Ave., Los Angeles) in 2D ScreenX. The ScreenX allowed for an expanded view of some of the locales and was especially effective in providing a feeling of isolation in the desert. You could really look around and see endless dunes.
You don’t have to wait until the end (which features Jumanji drums and an ostrich squawk). There are no mid-credit or end credit scenes, but wait until you see the ostriches in the snow scene (which suggests that there may be a sequel).