By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
The world of Jumanji is dangerous, and The Next Level proves just how vicious it can be. This third film of the series shows that “players” from our reality are not simply transported there for fun. It’s sentient and the reason is with how it recognizes select individuals and helps them out in crazy vicious ways.
When it was first discovered, it was a board game. But when it realizes that video games are the in thing, like a Motherbox from the DC Comic book world, it reconfigured itself so anyone finding it will try the game out. Usually those who are baited in discover for themselves how much life is better afterwards.
The problems between Spencer (Alex Wolff) and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) were solved in Welcome to the Jungle. In this latest chapter, we find Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) just waiting to die, but when Milo Walker (Danny Glover) arrives, there’s a reason why gramps has sheltered himself off to the rest of the world. The plot about Spencer finding life in the big city rough is not as well defined and it led to a bit of a confusing introduction. Who is the lead protagonist?
Rewatching Welcome to the Jungle reminded me of how much he wanted to stay in Jumanji and be the hero he really wants to be. It was his choice to come home for the holidays and escape the hell he was in. Martha (Morgan Turner), Fridge and Bethany (Madison Iseman) are worried and when they visit his home, he is gone. Not even his grandfather knows where he went. After hearing the distant sound of drums, they know. They return to Jumanji and find themselves in a new adventure, and an adversary straight out of Game of Thrones.
Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg has the blueprint for the franchise and is basically rehashing a lot from the last movie, The only difference is getting the video game avatars, real life actors Dwayne Johnson (Dr. Smolder Bravestone), Jack Black (Sheldon Oberon), Kevin Hard (Franklin Finbar) and Karen Gillan (Ruby Roundhouse) to play completely different personalities.
To watch Johnson impersonate DeVito is hilarious. Danny will always be the wise cracking Louie De Palma from TAXI and he’s rarely deviated from this persona. Johnson did his best and I chuckled. He has the comedic chops to pull it off. A new actress to this franchise takes a stab but I believe Awkwafina was really struggling. It was painful to watch. I can only imagine the bloopers to be featured when this film hits home video!
While I’ll always remember Glover in the Lethal Weapon movies and the struggling cop in Predator 2, to see him age that much was disheartening. I’m glad he’s still acting, but the decades show he’s truly ready to retire. Perhaps that’s why the character he plays chose the fate of what Spencer wanted to do; and in the next film the question of if Jumanji is real life or just fantasy will get answered.
In what’s new is an encounter with select mystical forces which make up the lifeblood of this world. There’s a fruit and a strange fountain of water. They are more than Easter Eggs, a backdoor of sorts, to help the team. If Spencer and gang make a journey to find the Wizard of Oz, I’d be okay with this concept for the next film then rehash the elements one more time.
It’s safe to assume a part three will get made. Enough has been offered in this movie to say a cosmic force is at work. As for whether or not it’s a God or something else, it’s hard to say. And I doubt it’s going to be revealed that this game is a complex virtual reality simulation.
I firmly believe Jumanji is the name of a greater force. Perhaps the world is alive much like how Gaia is the world itself. It recognizes when problem people are nearby and draws them in not to experience pleasures of, but rather put them in the proverbial out of the frying pan and into the fire so they can realize it’s time to change. The movie is no Bohemian Rhapsody either; the film shows the struggles these characters have to face, but in the long run, just where the wind blows is to find that support is there when needed. Spencer has his friends. Eddie finally stepped out of the house, and as for what’s next, I hope the green light to making part three won’t take two years to see!
4 Stars out of 5