Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a successful reboot back in 2017, setting the box office alight thanks to its entertaining premise and plenty of laughs. Just like the video games it parodied and commented on, a sequel has arrived which reunites the original cast and builds on the best bits of the last movie.
But wait a moment - how are they even back in Jumanji? Didn't they smash the console to pieces last time?
It's a good question and one that leads straight into the strengths of The Next Level. It's been a while since their adventure and the gang have been hanging out since then, happy as anything; apart from Spencer that is, who's missing the tremendous power and confidence he had in the digital jungle. After he returns home to his mother and grouchy grandfather Eddie (Danny Devito), he fixes the game up and becomes the only person to ever willingly head into Jumanji with Martha, Bethany and Fridge heading back in afterwards to save him.
Well, they would but things obviously don't go to plan. Bethany somehow isn't sucked in whilst Eddie and his old friend Milo (Danny Glover) are. Martha is still Ruby (Karen Gilan) whilst Fridge has instead turned into the Professor (Jack Black) along with Eddie and Milo becoming Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) and the cake-sensitive zoologist, Franklin Finbar (Kevin Hart).
This dynamic shift allows for even more fun with both Eddie and Milo being incapable of understanding anything that's happening at all, let alone what a game is in the first place. This lets Dwayne and Kevin switch it up and put on their best elderly impressions for some great bickering and confusion, even if they accidentally break character a little during more high octane moments. That still doesn't stop them from cranking out some great game gags though, like a particularly slapstick heavy event in an NPC village.
Whilst the plot may sound completely different it does share a ton of similarities; Nigel returns as their unhelpful NPC guide, they all still only have three lives, there are more big action set-pieces and there's another precious jewel stolen by an equally forgettable villain. Most of the humour remains intact too, along with a missed opportunity to showcase what games are like when they're broken and buggy (considering the state of it when they enter). Fortunately, it's the differences that help elevate The Next Level beyond being another retread.
There's a weird liquid which allows them to switch bodies along with an environment shift to vast deserts, bustling cities and cold temples. Newcomer Awkwafina is excellent as well, with a varied performance. It's the more subtle, emotional stuff that works best in The Next Level thanks to the newcomers. Eddie and Milo's relationship is the strongest of the bunch, with plenty of surprisingly heartfelt discussions peppered throughout with quite the knockout of an ending for some.
Jumanji: The Next Level certainly seems extremely similar when you look at the overall picture, but upon peering closer there's enough here to make it a little better. Video games also get sequels which tend to make subtle improvements from the last so it's quite fitting to see that this time it is still an entertaining family film with a lot more heart this time around.