In 2017, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” sent audiences roaring with laughter and adventure based on the 1995 film starring Robin Williams. After the film grossed near $1 billion, an inevitable sequel makes its way back to the mayhem jungle in “Jumanji: Next Level.”
The four Breakfast Club-like teens have since graduated from high school and are making their own path in life. Bethany (Madison Iseman) is volunteering in Costa Rica. Martha (Morgan Turner) is thriving both academically and socially in college. Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) is working out more than ever in preparation for his college football career. And Spencer (Alex Wolff) is the most miserable of the bunch, as he sees his friends have so much success while he’s stuck at New York University feeling both lonely and depressed.
Nevertheless, the group has formed a close and cohesive bond from the events of the previous film (being warped into a video game and almost dying will do that to you), which is why they agreed to get together over the holiday break for a reunion. As the groups share laughs and reminisce, they notice Spencer is a no-show.
Worried about their friend, they decide to go to Spencer’s house, where grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and former business partner, Milo (Danny Glover), answer the door without the slightest clue where Spencer is. Just then, the groups hears the haunting drums, and their panicked looks tell the entire story: Spencer has gone back into Jumanji.
Though filled with fear and agony, they decide the only option is to go back into the game to save Spencer. This time around, though, the game is busted and will not let them choose their characters like last time. Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Professor Oberon (Jack Black), Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Franklin Finbar (Kevin Hart) are the same cast of avatars, but they have different members of the group controlling them, which brings no shortage of drama and never-ending humor.
Not only does the group have to somehow find Spencer, in avatars they are not familiar with, but they also have to defeat Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann), an arrogant warlord who seeks to take control of Jumanji. Failing to do so will keep them trapped in Jumanji forever, or even worse, lose their three lives and die.
The 2017 “Jumanji” film was one of the surprise hits of the year, so expectations for “Jumanji: The Next Level” require both a certain level of worry and skepticism. Fortunately, the sequel follows a similar recipe to its predecessor with a plethora of chuckles and action/adventure.
It also helps having rock stars that deliver time and time again. Jack Black, proving to be an actor with underrated range, impresses again as Professor Oberon. He outdid himself portraying the self-centered Bethany in 2017, but his portrayal of another contrasted character is just as brilliant in this film.
Danny DeVito is also a welcomed addition to the cast, stealing almost every scene he’s in as the old, curmudgeon grandpa.
The plot may lack the strength of its predecessor, but it’s essentially just an excuse to get the group back into the game of Jumanji — where 90 percent of the film takes place — and where all the real fun is had.
“Jumanji: The Next Level” never takes itself too seriously, and as long as you don't either, you’ll be smiling from ear-to-ear for two hours straight. Game on.