The 2017 iteration of Jumanji was the greatest video game movie of all time. 2019’s effort is still a solid movie but suffers from repetition fatigue commonly found in sequels. All my favorite in-game characters are back; Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan. Outside of the game, we get a double dose of Danny; DeVito and Glover. These two old friends have been feuding for fifteen years before getting sucked into the game.
The jokes are what you would expect with older characters. Popular subjects include not understanding what a video game is, being stubborn, and not being able to hear other people. Initially, this can be funny, but there is a high amount of repetition of the exact same joke. I am not a fan of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but I believe DeVito plays a similar role here. He is appended onto an existing cast that works well together and plays a grumpy and stubborn old man.
The 2017 Jumanji was about high schoolers realizing that you shouldn’t judge people just by stereotypes. It encouraged the popular kids to hang out with the nerds. It had enough heart to be enjoyable. The Next Level looks at high school relationships once college begins. For Spencer, played by Alex Wolff, this means forgetting all the lessons of the first movie and being an outcast once again. This is not the typical things get better after high school for nerd’s story we are all used to. That story is often the reality most people experience. Spencer cuts himself off from his high school friends and is struggling to make new ones in college.
The Next Level spends a lot more of the relationship exploration on Eddie and Milo; DeVito and Glover. Their avatars are Johnson and Hart respectively. This feels like an attempt to go after an older audience, but that doesn’t line up well with the rest of the film. The takeaway is to not let grudges linger for years or else you may miss the limited time you have with someone. While it is a good lesson, it doesn’t fit with the target demographic, unless mom and dad bring their parents along with their children to see the movie; a three-generation family film?
One big saving grace to repetitive jokes is the addition of Ming, Awkwafina, to the cast. Awkwafina is a magnificent actress and I can’t get enough performances from her. She brings her callous wit and humor in full force. Her portrayal of DeVito is better than Johnson’s. Her entrance into the movie helps save it.
If you want a relaxing, family-friendly, popcorn chomping movie to see with the family around the holidays with no stakes, then this is the movie for you. I wish they had got a little more daring with the script and not relied so heavily on DeVito being stubborn a hundred times, but the movie was still a pleasure to watch. This slots in as my second favorite video game movie of all time.