“Jumanji: The Next Level” is more of the same - and that’s a good thing. It’s more fun, more laughs, more adventure and more Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. You (OK, me) can never get enough of America’s favorite wrestling alum. And his Dr. Xander “Smolder” Bravestone is the biggest, buffest adventurer around. For tag-team partners, returning director Jake Kasdan adds Danny DeVito and Donald Glover. They play a hysterical duo of bickering former BFFs. Awkwafina also joins the cast as the sneaky thief Ming Fleetfoot, one of the film’s best assets.
“Jumanji: The Next Level,” the third entry in the game-board-turned-virtual-reality adventure franchise, springs from returning writers Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner, who pick up where the 2017 reboot left off. The quartet of adolescents at the center - Spencer (Alex Wolff), Bethany (Madison Iseman), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) and Martha (Morgan Turner) - are adjusting to life after high school, some better than others. Home for Christmas break, the group is quickly trapped again inside the magical video game, Jumanji.
Along with Johnson, Kevin Hart (Franklin “Mouse” Finbar), Jack Black (Professor Shelly Oberon), Karen Gillan (Ruby Roundhouse) and Nick Jonas (Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough) reprise their roles as the game’s avatars. Rhys Darby is back as Nigel, the non-character player. The object of the game is to return the stolen “falcon jewel” to its rightful place in order to save the virtual territory of Jumanji from “great peril.” The stakes are even higher. Each player has three lives, but if all are lost, it’s “game over” and the player dies. To combat such heaviness, Kasdan employs loads of adventure and broad comedy abetted by a game-for-anything cast. Watching Gillian (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) execute a perfectly choreographed fight scene is really something. And “Game of Thrones” fans should get a kick out of Rory McCann (the Hound) again donning armor, but this time in a less-serious part as the hammy villain Jurgen the Brutal.
The ensuing quest takes the intrepid adventurers through a series of challenges in different worlds - a wintry fortress, a vast desert. It’s a lot like the “LEGO Indiana Jones” video game, following clues, performing tasks, fighting bad guys, outrunning killer ostriches. As the group navigates the game, they begin to come to terms with their personal issues: growing up, growing old and breaking up. Lessons are learned.
Although it’s pretty much a redo of the last movie, “The Next Level” ups the ante on the body-swap shenanigans, giving Johnson and Hart a chance to really show off their comic chops. For a good portion of the film, they are tasked with putting their stamp on DeVito’s crotchety grandpa (Johnson, doing a New Hampshire accent) and Glover’s long-winded Milo (Hart, having a blast). Their performances, like the movie itself, are filled with lots of heart and humor. So, cue the signature drums, there’s definitely more to come.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
“Jumanji: The Next Level”
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Danny Glover and Danny DeVito
(PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language.)