Jumanji: The Next Level

Year: 2019
Studio: Sony
Director: Jake Kasdan
Writer: Jake Kasdan/Jeff Pinkner/Scott Rosenberg
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Alex Wolff, Awkwafina, Morgan Turner, Madison Iseman, Ser'Darius Blain, Colin Hanks

Machine-tooled to be as defining an example of a sequel to a surprise hit as there's ever been. It's got just the right amount of same-but-different, with the same premise but a slightly different story so the aesthetic is intact, it has the same characters (that are, again, just different enough), the same jokes and interplay and it's hard not to be cynical about it no matter how much you enjoy or laugh at it at the time. And there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes than looking at Karen Gillan in a midriff-baring tank top and shorts.

I shouldn't be so huffy because the narrative effort to get the guys back into the game is a lot better than the cack-handed effort most movies of this ilk would make, and any excuse to get Danny DeVito on screens again is good.

Spencer (Alex Wolff) is feeling low back in the real world after getting to be the hero he always dreamed about in Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), to the extent he's pulling back from the friends he made while stuck in Jumanji, Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), Bethany (Madison Iseman) and new love Martha (Morgan Turner).

One night, despairing of ever feeling that good again, he unearths the game and goes back in. When the guys come to his house to find him, he's nowhere to be found. Instead, they're introduced to his crotchety grandfather Eddie (De Vito), in the middle of an argument with estranged business partner Milo (Danny Glover) who's come to make peace after they fell out years before.

Extracting themselves from the argument Fridge, Bethany and Martha go downstairs and realise what Spencer has done. But when they push the button themselves, it all goes horribly wrong. Martha is again the winsome figure of Ruby Roudhouse (Gillan), but the game has sucked Milo and Eddie in too, now embodying weapons valet Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart) and Bravestone respectively. Fridge finds himself in the body of Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), and Bethany is nowhere to be found.

It lets Hart and Johnson do their best hammy Glover and DeVito impressions that make for some decent laughs in the first and second acts, but before long everyone has to attend to the business of making their way across Jumanji's wild lands and solve the mystery to get out again.

Last time they learnt to work together, but this time Fridge and Martha (as Shelly and Ruby) have to convince two septuagenarian codgers exactly what's going on and do their bit to find Spencer and get to the end.

They eventually do so in the shape of master thief Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina), and if it's not already obvious, it turns out not only that you don't automatically get the same avatar every time, this time their strengths and weaknesses are different too.

It goes from one kind-of imaginative set piece to the next, all of them overdone with CGI that's sub-par at best, but that's only because Sony marketers and the producers (including Johnson and director Jake Kasdan) know very well you're there for the Rock's charisma, his comic bromance with Kevin Hart and the swashbuckling thrills rather than realistic visuals.

Jumanji was the underdog hit of 2017, nobody apparently realising what an invisible groundswell of love there was for the Robin Williams original film, and with a global haul of three quarters of a billion so far for this instalment, we probably haven't seen the end of this yet.

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