Welcome back to Jumanji!
Viewers are once again transported to the fantasy world Jumanji in the equally compelling sequel to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017). The cult classic, Jumanji (1995) has its fantastical creatures from the titular board game coming alive and running rampant in the real world. Meanwhile, The Next Level has retained the similarly riveting premise with its protagonists entering the role-playing adventure game instead. Introducing an all-star cast of both race and gender diversity, viewers are treated to an extravagant performance that involves a lot of action, a gripping plot, more humour, and a little poignance.
Three years has passed since Welcome to the Jungle (2017) when four students were transported into the fantasy world; they succeeded in clearing the game and had destroyed the console quickly after. Now, the same group of young adults has made plans for a reunion after leading separate lives. However, the main character, Spencer GIlpin (Alex Wolff) is reluctant to meet. The apprehensive college student is feeling rather inferior about his dull life in comparison to the rest’s seemingly fulfilling ones, especially that of his long-distance girlfriend Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner). Ultimately, Spencer’s inferiority drives him back to Jumanji after his attempt at repairing the broken console. Seeking a sense of purpose in the imaginative world, Spencer hopes to regain confidence in the body of his former avatar, the charismatic Dr. Xander Smolder (Dwayne Johson).
Anthony Johson (Ser’Darius Blain), Martha, and Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman) are aghast to learn of Spencer’s return to Jumanji where three strikes of in-game deaths would mean an immediate demise of their real bodies. Albeit grudgingly, their deep-rooted friendship has encouraged the hesitant rescue of their old friend. Eddie (Danny Devito), Spencer’s grandfather, and his estranged friend and business partner Milo Walker (Danny Glover) are transported unwittingly into the fantasy world as well.
With the exception of Bethany, it is revealed that the mismatched group of nervous younglings and two cranky old men are assigned avatars at random. A different storyline from the previous game, the adventurers are now facing a different trial with Jumanji suffering from a drought. To exit the game, they are tasked to recover the legendary necklace, Falcon Jewel, from the nefarious warlord Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann).
Herein ensues a hilarious adventure with Eddie and Milo struggling to understand the severity of the situation. Chased by a flock of terrifying ostriches across seemingly endless sand dunes, the group finally meets Spencer’s new avatar, the nimble thief Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina). New in-game characters and items such as the Jumanji Berry and magical waters are introduced; the original players (including latecomers veteran Alex Creeke (Colin Hanks) and Bethany) eventually revert to their former avatars.
Humour, wit, and a pinch of life lessons, The Next Level is not only about breathtaking backdrops and thrilling actions. Although the death bridge sequence with its predatory monkeys is rather heart-stopping, relatable real-life problems are explored at the same time. Eddie’s long-time feud with Milo is explained, Milo had sold their co-owned diner without Eddie’s knowledge, thus forcing the former into a retirement. It is then elucidated that Milo is terminally ill, and he desires to reconcile with his old friend. Through these life-and-death tribulations, Eddie finally accepts Milo’s apology after the long years.
The group is then shown to successfully infiltrate Jurgen’s fortress for the final showdown. With Martha’s avatar, Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gilian) and Dr Smolder, this scene provides a brilliant confrontation of heavy punches and nimble kicks against an upbeat soundtrack, ending in the annihilation of the enemies. Prior to the chaos, Spencer has admitted his insecurity to which Martha comforts him that they will always be there for each other. Touching on the grappling self-doubts, Spencer is courageous not only in facing the numerous bloodthirsty foes but in his fears as well.
Finally, the game pans towards the end with Spencer successfully defeating Jurgen and retrieving the Falcon Jewel. As per the rules, the necklace is shone in the sun and the name “Jumanji” is called out thrice to end the game. Ultimately, Milo has opted to stay behind and to enjoy the rest of his life as a free pegasus soaring the skies. After the group gives their bittersweet goodbyes, they return to the real world promising never to touch Jumanji again. As the laughing group of four shares a blissful meal at Eddie and Milo’s old diner, a flock of ostriches rushes past them. To their horror, Jumanji has come alive once more.
As a fan of Jumanji (1995), I was thrilled to learn of the long-awaited sequel directed by Jake Kasdan. While Welcome to the Jungle does not disappoint, The Next Level has indeed brought a new level of comedy and action with a tinge of tears. In particular, I had immensely enjoyed the avatars mimicking their counterparts’ personalities very well. The actors and actresses have done a wonderful portrayal.
The production design is impressive, as imaginative as one would find in the best video games. From the tumultuous adventures in the jungle, through the treacherous desert to the intimidating dark castle guarded by icy slopes, each and every second of the film keeps viewers on the edge of their seats in suspense.
The ending is a little poignant, heavily accentuating the message of friendship, courage, and loyalty. After all, life is best meant to be enjoyed with close friends. A highly-lauded film, it is a must-watch for all.
Till the next level.