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Review – Jumanji: The Next Level

Jake Kasdan (Sex Tape and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) returns to the Jumanji series to direct the second instalment, Jumanji: The Next Level. The first film’s principal cast all return — Dwayne Johnson (Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw), Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy), Kevin Hart (Central Intelligence) and Jack Black (School of Rock) — and are now joined by Danny DeVito (Throw Momma From the Train), Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon) and Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians).

A year after a group of teens narrowly survived being sucked into an old video game, Jumanji, they meet up again at Christmas to trade war stories about their first year in the “real” world, working abroad, University, year’s out, but one of their number, Spencer (Alex Wolff – Hereditary) is missing.

Minor spoilers ahead!

Spencer is having trouble fitting in at NYU and goes home to play Jumanji again, wanting to be comforted by playing as the tough, charismatic and handsome Dr. Bravestone (The Rock). But the game is dangerous and broken and Spencer gets trapped. His friends jump into the game to save him, but the busted console also sucks in Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (DeVito) and his friend Milo (Glover).

“Playing” as the Jumanji characters is the main conceit and comedy mine of these new takes on Jumanji and The Next Level changes things up a bit. As the game is a bit broken, no one gets the character they had last time and the switcheroos and the laughs they provide prove hit and miss.

This time The Rock is being “played” by Danny DeVito and Kevin Hart’s zoologist avatar is inhabited by Glover and the two old guys struggling with their new bodies and the concept of videogames, let alone being in a video game, is funny. As a concept. Johnson and Hart’s Devito and Glover impressions are good, but the writing is bad. About 85% of the jokes are suited to only the recently lobotomised with the flashes of decent gags and material feeling like they are improv.

It is mostly really basic, Mrs Brown’s Boys level stuff, featuring way too much “Danny DeVito is old and nearly fell down because he is old HA HA HA”, and Jack Black’s OMG valley girl thing is still a bit funny but this time he also gets “played” by Ser’Darius Blain (Charmed) and it honestly and uncomfortably feels like blackvoice. Meanwhile, Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse gets a criminally low amount to do apart from one horrifically awkward smooch with The Rock and two minutes dance-fighting that is almost exactly the same as the one she had in the first film, even using the same song.

The action side of things is a real chore. These scenes are routine and quite dull CG fests with no tension or stakes and The Rock’s final battle with the big bad played by Rory McCann is awful. I love him, but Rory McCann is woefully miscast here, playing it soft-spoken and never seeming scary or threatening at all. We know he is good and that he can be very threatening and scary from his time as The Hound on Game of Thrones, so this performance seems solely due to an absolute lack of being given any direction.

Luckily, Awkwafina saves the whole film. She turns up mid-second act as a thief avatar that Spencer was zapped into and she steals the show. Her “Spencer” is pretty good but there’s not enough meat on his parody bones for the performance to do a heck of a lot with, but when she later “becomes” Danny DeVito, oh boy, you are in for a treat. Her vocal mannerisms are spot on and she even has an instantly-recognisable-as-DeVito face that she can switch on and a subtle bunching up and hunching over the shoulders. I really hope Jumanj-3 is just Awkwafina as Danny DeVito pulling off an elaborate heist. That would be amazing. Jumanji: The Next Level totally isn’t.

Jumanji: The Next Level is released in the UK on December the 13th.

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