Movie review: ‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ is fun, if not quite as fresh as its predecessor

I don’t know that anyone was expecting 2017’s “Jumanji” reboot/sequel “Welcome to the Jungle” to be a huge hit.

Nobody was really asking for a sequel to the 1995 fan favorite “Jumanji,” a fun adventure movie about a strangely supernatural (and VERY dangerous) board game. It was a cool premise, but I didn’t necessarily think we needed more. “Welcome to the Jungle” looked like a flop waiting to happen.

However, when I saw the trailer for “Welcome to the Jungle,” I found myself thinking, “Well, this actually kinda looks like fun.” The new movie offered a creative update on the original film: this time, instead of a board game, a group of kids gets sucked into a videogame, with famous actors playing the avatars.

The movie turned out to be a total blast, and it went on to gross nearly a billion dollars worldwide. So of course, a sequel to the sequel was inevitable.

Bottom line: Like its predecessor, “Jumanji: The Next Level” is a fun movie. I was entertained throughout, and I felt like I got my money’s worth. Still, it doesn’t feel nearly as inventive as “Welcome to the Jungle,” and I wish they’d done more to push the concept further. While very enjoyable, “The Next Level” doesn’t really offer anything new.

Three years after “Welcome to the Jungle,” the four friends who were trapped inside the videogame — Spencer, Fridge, Martha, and Bethany — are now college-age and are very glad to put the whole “Jumanji” mess behind them. Well…at least most of them are.

Although playing the “Jumanji” videogame was a terrifying and life-threatening experience, Spencer misses the way he felt when he was playing “Dr. Smolder Bravestone” in the game. He’s struggling to adjust to life in college, and he wants to be strong and brave again.

So, against his better judgement, he goes back into the game, and then it’s up to Fridge, Martha, and Bethany to save him. They also get some unexpected sidekicks in the form of Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (played by Danny DeVito) and Milo, Eddie’s estranged friend (played by Danny Glover), who get sucked into the videogame as well.

Like last time, the best thing about this movie is seeing four famous actors — Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan — play over-the-top avatars in a videogame. Not only are they playing videogame characters, they are able to hilariously channel the personalities of the “real person” using the avatar.

Things are a little different this time, however; the avatars that Spencer’s friends used previously aren’t necessarily the ones they get paired with this go-around. Also, Awkwafina shows up in this movie in a fun role, but I don’t want to give away too much and spoil the surprise.

This movie has some entertaining action sequences, and even though you can guess how things will play out, it’s a very enjoyable ride.

In terms of bringing something new to the story, I feel like bringing in online gaming, or something like that, would have been a nice way to keep evolving the concept, which went from board game to videogame, but didn’t really change in this film. If they make another one (if “The Next Level” does well, I’m sure they will), I hope they keep tweaking the mechanics of the game, because that’s what makes these movies exciting.

Still, if you enjoyed “Welcome to the Jungle,” you’ll probably have a good time at “The Next Level,” as well.

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