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Critics say Jumanji franchise worthy of an extra life with fun but derivative 'The Next Level'
The cinematic Jumanji series returns to theaters everywhere this Friday (Dec. 13) with The Next Level, a direct follow-up to 2017's Welcome to the Jungle. But is this third entry in the franchise (and second of the revived version) a worthy successor?
For the most part, critics everywhere agree that the film is a fun, charming, and exciting sequel worthy of the Jumanji name that was first made famous by Joe Johnston and Robin Williams in 1995. That being said, some critics aren't as enamored with The Next Level, which they see as derivative of Welcome to the Jungle, which reinvigorated the IP in surprising ways. It's always hard to recapture that unexpected lightning in a bottle, while still keeping the new fans happy.
Re-using the video game console premise from the last installment, The Next Level finds our teenage heroes — Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), Martha (Morgan Turner), and Bethany (Madison Iseman) — returning to the virtual world in search of Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff). Here's the rub: this time, they're joined by Spencer's grandfather, Eddie (Danny DeVito), and Eddie's old friend, Milo (Danny Glover). You can just imagine how hard it is to win the game with two crotchety old dudes complaining for most of the way.
All of the in-game avatars are back as well: Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), and Seaplane McDonough (Nick Jonas). Awkwafina joins the cast as a new playable, pick-pocketing character known as Ming Fleetfoot.
Jake Kasdan returns to direct and even gets a writing credit with Jeff Pinker and Scott Rosenberg.
Put the controller down for a second and see what critics are saying about Jumanji: The Next Level...
"The Next Level could be confusing for anyone who hasn’t seen the original ... although it helps that Milo and Eddie don’t understand what’s happening to them, allowing the others to shout the rules as they go along. If you’ve ever tried to play a video game with someone of your grandparents’ generation, you’ll appreciate the exasperation the repeat players feel toward these absurd exchanges — which mirror how any catch-up conversation would go in which Jumanji fans tried to explain the plot of this movie to an oblivious older relative." -Peter Debruge, Variety
"Given how well the film does with giant, totally imaginary action scenes like this, it's disappointing that FX artists don't try a little harder to make small-scale moments look real. The acrobatic exploits of Ruby Roundhouse, for instance, look distractingly fake at times. Maybe that's deliberate, given that this is after all a video game — but it's not at the same level of believable rendering we see elsewhere." -John DeFore, The Hollywood Reporter
"What’s most frustrating about The Next Level is the way it so routinely wastes the talents of its cast. In the first film, Karen Gillan’s Ruby Roundhouse worked as a clever subversion of the sexy action femme bot. Here, all she does is deliver exposition and perform cartwheels. Jack Black is, essentially, asked to do an impression of a black teenager. The results are as awkward (and teetering dangerously close to offensive) as you’d expect." -Clarisse Loughrey, The Independent
"While Kasdan’s newest entry into the burgeoning franchise ... toys with some compelling ideas early on — it sucks to grow old, and here’s what happens after all the exciting moments in life pass you by — The Next Level eventually gives itself over to bigger, sillier gags. Still, it’s a fitting followup, and while not as original as its predecessors, makes a strong claim for the series to keep earning extra lives." -Kate Erbland, IndieWire
"Jumanji: The Next Level is a blast. Instead of relying solely on its proven premise, we get to know more about the kids and the adults playing the game. There are still moments of silliness, but there is also a whole lot of heart here. What seems like something that is going to be a tired retread turns out to be far more fun than expected." -Jenna Busch, IGN
"Jumanji: The Next Level is a must-see for fans of the last film, and an entertaining thrill-ride for all moviegoers. The humor of the movie is absolutely laugh-out-loud hilarious and while the heart is somewhat shallow, it does provide enough balance to elevate the comedy. Though the story wears a little thin after sustaining two movies, Jumanji: The Next Level sets the stage to reinvent the premise yet again in a third movie, which is exciting enough to get viewers excited for a threequel in the reboot series." -Molly Freeman, ScreenRant
"What gives Jumanji its likability is that it has the emphases and comedy beats of an animation, but also the performance technique of live action – and the occasional reshuffling of avatars and players lets the actors show off a little bit further. Jumanji’s next level is rather satisfying." -Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
"To put it another way, Jumanji: The Next Level is like the Game Of The Year edition of Welcome To The Jungle. It's an all-terrains follow-up with a bunch of new content that makes it worth the double-dip for franchise fans, but it essentially offers the same structure and a (not unwelcome) revisitation of Kasdan's last run out. But if nothing else, the already brilliant cast has levelled up magnificently." -Mark Harrison, Den of Geek (UK)
"The Next Level even repeats the same gags and set pieces as Welcome to the Jungle. Sometimes there's a bit of meta commentary to it, but often it just takes the concept of giving the fans what they want too literally. Fortunately, like with Welcome to the Jungle, the strength of The Next Level lies in its four main leads." -Ian Sandwell, Digital Spy
"The problem, though, is that the inevitability of this film didn’t spark creative inspiration for its filmmakers. The lead actors are unquestionably game, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart are both very funny when they get to riff as much different personalities, and because there are so many ideas tossed out, the film is rarely dull. But The Next Level is otherwise sweaty in its attempts to make its real-world characters and their choices remotely compelling, and their video-game exploits exciting. If there’s a third movie, they should figure out the story to start." -Josh Spiegel, /FILM