Jumanji: The Next Level
Updated: Jul 12, 2021
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. A different-in-aesthetic follow-up to one of the most inadequate yet exciting and intense nostalgic favorites ever made, it turned out to have become the sequel that we never knew could’ve scored big time. Not only did it open to rave reviews, like the one that I gave of it, but at the time, it also went on to become one of the highest-grossing movies by Sony, right next only to the Spider-Man movies. The movie turned that big a profit, leaving behind a legacy on par with that of the original. It’s kind of remarkable.
Well, it turns out it was so good and so successful that this sequel went on to have a sequel of its own: Jumanji: The Next Level, or, as it really is by technicality, Jumanji III.
Taking place at Christmas time (a couple of years after the events of the last film), the film focuses on the high school quartet once again; Spencer, Fridge, Martha, and Bethany. After graduating from high school, they’ve all gone their separate ways and went off to college, such as NYU in Spencer’s case. Then, one day, the group got back together in Brantford, where they all planned on having a brunch reunion at a restaurant called Nora’s.
At least, all but one showed up.
Shortly after getting reacquainted with one another at Nora’s, Fridge, Martha and Bethany suddenly thought something was up when Spencer never showed up, especially since he hadn’t returned any of their calls or messages. They decided to find out for themselves by stopping on over at Spencer’s house. His grandfather Eddie, played by Danny DeVito, was staying there, and he was accompanied by a close friend of his who also stopped on over, Milo, played by Danny Glover. Eddie had mentioned that Spencer was still at the house, so they all spread out to search for him, but to no avail. Then, to their horror, they discovered that Spencer brought back the smooshed remains of the Jumanji game and video game system and tinkered around with it in the basement, to a point where it started working again. At Martha’s insistence, they all begrudgingly agreed to go back into the game of Jumanji in the hopes of saving him.
So, Martha, now back as her original avatar, Ruby Roundhouse, found herself back into the jungles of Jumanji and once again with Dr. Bravestone, Mouse Finbar, and Shelly Oberon on her side. So that means that she found Spencer and that all four friends have reunited in their original avatars at long last, right?
This time, Fridge inherited the body of Shelly Oberon, much to his instinctive gripes. And as for Dr. Bravestone and Mouse Finbar? Respectively, the players inheriting their bodies turned out to have been none other than Eddie and Milo, who were sucked into the game of Jumanji with them.
So, this unprecedented group got together through their bickering and set out to complete the game of Jumanji again. However, according to Nigel, the game guide, there was a new threat putting everything at stake this time. A barbarian named Jurgen the Brutal plundered an Avian Province village with his henchmen and pet hyenas, and he robbed the village’s elderly leader of the Falcon Jewel, a mystical ruby. Without it, the crops and springs that once flourished throughout Jumanji ceased to a halt, and they left it in a state of drought. And with that Jewel, Jurgen planned to ally with the equally treacherous Kababik brothers to form world domination over Jumanji.
So, the group had to lunge their way through deserts, mazy rope bridges, and even snowy mountainous terrain to find Jurgen the Brutal, reclaim the Falcon Jewel, and above all, find Spencer, wherever he may have ended up and whoever he ended up as.
Meanwhile, back in Brantford, Bethany, being the only one not to have been sucked into the game, tried whatever trick she knew to try to reactivate the system and allow her back inside. When that didn’t work, it seemed as if there was no one to turn to to help her on her quest to help her friends... except for Alex.
Yep, even he made a comeback.
After two films made under the Jumanji name, I knew it was going to be very tricky to pull off the same magic with a threequel when it did not have a new cast of characters to discover the perils of the game next, just like how it worked with each film before this one. But surprisingly, and thankfully, this film had plenty of things going for it that kept the magic and excitement alive, as well as fresh, within its continuing storyline. I have to give the plot some credit on this, to start with: unlike the first two Jumanji films, where all the events that occurred in each film resulted from accidental discoveries, here the main plot of the movie came about because the main characters went off on a rescue mission. It felt fresh because this time around, there was some deliberation behind their quest within the Jumanji game, and the purpose was to find Spencer and bring him home, in addition to completing the game first, of course.
Second, there were plenty of new elements thrown into the Jumanji game’s mechanics to separate it more from how it was in the first two films. It remained a video game, sure, especially since it was the same one from the last movie. But those new elements were introduced to maintain the game’s momentum and excitement. As I said, it had a new villain, a new obstacle to overcome, and even plenty of new environments for the characters to trek through to reach their destination. Although I will admit, the film’s worldbuilding methods regarding Jumanji’s expansion were hit and miss. Some of the new locales felt appropriate for Jumanji, a jungle inspired by Africa. For instance, one of the levels took place in a desert; that’s appropriate because there are many of those located north of the African jungles, anyway. That, along with a town called the Oasis, and not minding the canyons within it, felt geographically correct within the realms of…Africana? I’ll call it Africana.
However, in the last half of the movie, the characters ended up hiking through regional forests with rivers, and ultimately, through snowy mountains. By no means would those have fit in a game inspired by Africana! If it wanted to extend its reach to landscapes inspired by, say, the regions of Northeastern Africa and western Asia, that might make sense. But as is, it felt like a huge stretch. Oh, and here’s another thing about it that made it not fit. At the end of the movie, Nigel did arrive to greet the main characters and players, and how did he get there? On a dog sled. That would’ve been more appropriate in either Russia or Alaska, but not here in Jumanji.
Ah, well. For all the mixed elements concerning those, here’s new element #3. This movie introduced new avatars for the players to become upon their arrival in Jumanji. The most significant one was a female cat burglar named Ming Fleetfoot, played by Awkwafina. Her strengths included cracking open locks, while her weakness was pollen. Now, this was a stylish new addition to the Jumanji game, and considering the heritage of this avatar, that’s another reason to be convinced that that the game attempted to go a bit more abroad with its worldbuilding.
And the other character - an odd choice for a playable game character, I might add - was a black horse named Cyclone. He started as just a regular horse until it was revealed that he could spew out wings and become a Pegasus. That quality of him was fantastic to see, though, at times, the design of the Pegasus reminded me a bit of the Pegasuses from The Return of Jafar.
The first time he was introduced, he turned out to be the game character that Bethany became as she entered the game with Alex, coming back again as his original avatar, Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough. Actually, that makes two characters lucky enough to have returned to the game in their original avatars on their first try: Alex and Martha.
Before I forget, this leads me to discuss one other element of the Jumanji game that made it seem a little crazier. What happened was, during their quest to find a Jumanji Berry in the Oasis, Martha and Fridge discovered a pool of water with glowing electricity coming from within the water. At first, they feared that if one of them fell in the water, they’d have lost a life. But, instead, they discovered that if the avatar doused in that water touched the hand of another, it made the players switch their avatars. Yep, that means the players who inherited their avatars’ bodies would’ve been allowed in a freaky way to inherit the body of another. The first time this happened, it led to some funny banters when Fridge got Ruby’s body, and Martha got Shelly’s body. Watching them react to their new body positions, some in a complaining way, others in an excited, cocky fashion, kept up the humor and freshness that was memorable about them from the last movie.
And when the entire group, Spencer, Fridge, Bethany, Martha, Alex, Eddie, and Milo, found another pond containing the electrical charges, everyone but Martha and Alex jumped in without hesitation. In doing so, Eddie ended up inheriting the body of Ming, with Milo inheriting that of Cyclone, while everyone else came out precisely as they were the first time they played the game: Spencer as Dr. Bravestone, Fridge as Mouse Finbar, and Bethany as Shelly Oberon.
Speaking of which, I better talk about the characters and what they were like in this movie. Since Spencer wanted to go back into the game of Jumanji after his life and those of his friends were on the line last time they played it, there had to be some intriguing reason for him to have done what he did. Well, when the main cast found him, they found him in the Oasis, albeit as Ming, when really he hoped to be Dr. Bravestone. The reason for this? Ever since he and Martha became a couple, he thought that being Bravestone was one of the best things that ever happened to him. He felt as if it gave him a chance to be someone, and something, better than he ever had been in his life, especially as far as his relationship with Martha was concerned. However, as soon as he saw Martha’s escapades with other people on social media – Martha became more of a social butterfly than ever before – Spencer ultimately thought that he and Martha should take a break, to which Martha agreed since he barely responded to her at all. So, this showed a tremendous level of insecurity not just with Spencer, but in some spades, with Martha also. I also like just how determined and brave Martha had become in her pursuit to find Spencer; this was a massive cry from the sour, shy girl she was in the last movie. What made it even better was that they stemmed from the consequences of their first venture in Jumanji and how they affected their real-life dilemmas. So, that kind of development on their part was fascinating and very well-handled.
However, the other returning characters, like Fridge, Bethany, and Alex, felt just a skosh more standard than in the last film. But it didn’t stop them from having some funny moments or touching moments of their own. For instance, when Bethany approached Alex at his house, this led to a couple of such touching scenes. There was one where she met Bethany, the daughter Alex named after her, and one after that where she admitted to Alex that she was desperate to help her friends because they were her team. Considering how much of a social-mediaholic she was in the beginning of the last movie, this, in a significantly short-and-sweet manner, also showed some noticeable character development on her part.
The two new characters, Eddie and Milo, felt almost as interesting as Spencer and Martha. Eddie came to live at Spencer’s place after going through a hip surgery, and he was downright reluctant to get in touch with Milo despite her daughter, and Spencer’s mom, asking him to do so. And while it was funny to see him in a bad mood when Milo did show up, you know that something may have gone down to have left their friendship that strained. It turned out that Nora’s, the restaurant that the main characters were meaning to have brunch in, was owned by Eddie and Milo in their day. However, Milo walked out on Eddie because he sought out retirement, whereas Eddie was more determined to keep working and keep the restaurant afloat, no matter how old he got. To him, he felt like Milo betrayed him for leaving him the way he did. So being stuck in Jumanji together was like a chance for both Eddie and Milo to make amends for how things went down for them before. Now, their reactions to being in Jumanji were nothing short of side-splitting. As Bravestone, Eddie was prone to misinterpret the people and gameplay of Jumanji, while as Mouse, Milo was prone to go in long conversations about his past or family life. And the cream of the crop was to see the two of them react to being in healthier and more physically built bodies than the ones they had in real life. But when they had moments to reconcile and make amends, they were actually quite touching.
The villain of the movie, Jurgen the Brutal, was a bit of a standard villain, but his aggression and his lust for power, just like Van Pelt from the last film, was what made him so memorable. One particular scene I remembered him by was when he was announcing a funeral in honor of a dear friend he had. So, he talked about how he was special to him until Jargen mentioned that he tried to take something precious from him, to which Jargen then added that the meat he was feeding to his hyena pets was the flesh of that dear friend. Dude, that’s just sick!
All the actors gave it their all here, and they played a part in the movie expressing the same charm as that of the last movie. The returning actors continued to excel in their roles, from the actors who played Spencer, Fridge, Bethany, and Martha, to the actors who played the avatars, like Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black. They were still as marvelous as they were in the last film, only for different reasons. While Karen Gillan continued to master the nuances of Martha in her Ruby Roundhouse avatar, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart went from meshing the avatars’ personalities together with those of teenagers to meshing the avatars’ personalities together with those of old farts. The results were as incredible as they were hilarious. And Jack Black, after seeing him capture the girliness of Bethany in the last film, also was not too shabby in expressing Fridge’s sense of frustration and sarcasm during his more trying periods, just like Kevin Hart did.
The new actors who jumped into the Jumanji bandwagon with this film also left good impressions as the new characters, and each one felt unique in their own right. Rory McCann physically and vocally oozed with intimidation as Jurgen the Brutal, and as much as his actual character and motivations fell short, his inflections more than made up for it. Danny DeVito felt great in making Eddie a sassy, know-it-all old guy who always had too much to worry about. Meanwhile, Danny Glover was excellent in conveying Milo as a humble, moody old fellow who had a lot on his mind. In fact, what do you know? Both actors who played longtime friends share the same first name. Go figure!
Awkwafina felt pretty feisty as Ming Fleetfoot. Every time she sprang into action, you can feel her cat burglar instincts coming to work as she attempted to go from Point A to Point B. Characteristically and vocally speaking, she was equally as terrific. She excelled in taking a page from Alex Wolff in giving Spencer his meekness and insecurities when he had her for his avatar. And when Eddie took over, she excelled in using Danny DeVito’s sense of old-man complaints and speech patterns. I don’t know why, but out of the actors in this movie, Awkwafina felt like the most versatile and flexible out of them all. It makes me wonder what that would do for her in future films because this might be helping her out big time.
The action and suspense still went about as they did in a Jumanji film, but I feel like they went slower here than in the last movie; they didn’t quite add up to a cohesive roller coaster ride. There were plenty of good action scenes, but the suspense factor came more from the presence of Jurgen the Brutal than in the life bars, though that was apparent sometimes, too. And, I think another good portion of it came from the environments where the characters had to wander, for they tied into the big goings-on in the story. The final battle at Mt. Zhatmire felt cohesive and mounted up - no pun intended - to a rousing and exciting resolution. Although, at times, I felt like it was more focused on recreating Game of Thrones than it was on showcasing a way to finish the game of Jumanji.
Some of the other actions scenes felt nice, though, like the ostrich chase in the dunes. While it felt weird to see ostriches wandering in a desert, that’s nothing compared to the adrenaline you could feel from those scenes. The car chases, the players’ ways of avoiding them, they were all still exciting.
But for me, the most Jumanjian part of this movie would be the rope bridge scene. Seeing so many varying rope bridges that could have gone from one spot to another - don’t ask how - as the main characters were trying to make their way through, it was guaranteed to put you on the edge of your seat a little. And if that wasn’t enough, they had to do so while evading a massive herd of angry, encroaching mandrills. And I’m just going to say it: eat your hearts out, monkeys of the first film! These guys felt far beastlier and more aggressive by comparison.
One other thing about this movie I found interesting is that, while it still maintained the humor, energy, and charm of the second movie, it tended to feel pretty dark at times. Through, to me, it felt more like a dreary and somber kind of dark as opposed to the first film, which was the intense and pulse-pounding kind of dark. For one thing, it didn’t feel quite as colorful as in the last movie, sort of like the first movie, strangely enough. But, again, it probably had more to do with the settings. And for another, there was a reason Milo approached Eddie and wanted to make amends with him on such short notice: he was sick and did not have much longer to live. Once that cat was out of the bag, this threw in a whole different curve on their friendship, and by the end of the movie, they parted ways. Eddie won and left the game with the others, while Milo, as Cyclone, decided to stay behind because, as he put it, somebody has got to watch over Jumanji. This was pretty sad to watch when you think about it.
And another thing, the restaurant, Nora’s? Well, the current owner of the restaurant wasn’t just any Nora. I didn’t realize until just recently that this was the same Nora from the first film, Nora Shepherd, down to being played by Bebe Neuwirth. Much like the “Alan Parrish was here” message from the last movie, it’s always cool to see the new Jumanji films make noticeably distinct callbacks to the first film, even if it’s with something more ambitious, like a simple cameo.
Much like how Welcome to the Jungle was the Jumanji sequel no one knew would be a hit, The Next Level felt like the Jumanji sequel I bet no one knew could still have had tricks up its sleeve. It did an excellent job of using the last film’s success to its advantage by infusing it with a good way of continuing the story that felt more straightforward this time and plenty of twists to keep the momentum strong. But even then, despite its best efforts, it didn’t always add up. In some parts, when it played its cards right, it really played them right. But in others, I can’t help but feel like it was pushing its luck.
In fact, word has it that a fourth Jumanji film is in development, and I have mixed feelings about that. It would be cool to see the world of Jumanji and the same characters again, but at the same time, how far can the writers go with Jumanji before they run out of steam? I don’t know, we’ll have to stay tuned.
This movie may not be the most coherent game player, but it is definitely not without some surprise moves of its own.
My Rating: B
It’s funny how much this movie felt a bit more like the first Jumanji, isn’t it? It felt colorful yet visually muddled, some of its scenes and themes were a bit dark, and heck, the first Jumanji and this Jumanji even ended at Christmas time, whereas this film also began at Christmas time.
Speaking of which, there’s an end credits scene where Spencer’s mother had a repair guy look at busted furnace in the basement for her. However, the repair guy noticed the Jumanji game system. Not knowing what it was, he decided to inspect it more and touch it. And the next thing that happened…well, let’s just say it became the first Jumanji all over again.
Man, is it me, or do the new Jumanji movies have a thing with jokes about male genitalia? When Bethany and Fridge snuck into Jurgen’s castle pretending to be the Kababik brothers, one of Jurgen’s henchmen accompanying them lamented how one of the ‘Kababik brothers’ became a eunuch. As in, he gave up his testicles for the greater good. That was immensely awkward. And it was too bad Bethany got involved in this, too; she may have probably been up to date on the male anatomy at this point.