Jumanji: The Next Level Review
After the surprisingly hilarious and innovative Welcome to the Jungle, this excellent sequel capitalises on its two Dannys - Glover and DeVito - for even more hilarity.The body-swapping avatar-playing antics of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black were superbly realised in the belated sequel/soft reboot to the beloved Robin William's original, allowing all four to play not only against type but against gender, enjoying the insanity of Johnson being neurotic and insecure, Gillan shy and self-conscious, Hart a jock-turned-short-ass, and Black drama-queening his way into oblivion. It was genius. Simple, but genius. And it carried an otherwise relatively throwaway movie through, transforming it into one of the best video-game adaptations that's not from an actual videogame.
The sequel goes straight for the Face/Off of it all, to delicious effect, particularly for those who have grown up with the two Dannys
2019's sequel could have merely injected the same teen characters back into - as subtitled - "The Next Level", but returning director Jake Kasdan (yes, son of Lawrence "Empire Strikes Back" Kasdan) takes up writing duties as well here, and turns in a surprisingly thoughtful attempt at cleverly doubling down on the body-swapping mayhem from last time, eschewing formula in favour of something with a little more heart, as well as ripe opportunity for the unlikeliest of actors (Johnson and Hart in particular) to revel in yet another side to their respective performance repertoires. Of course, this is largely thanks to the exquisitely splendid casting of the legends that are Danny DeVito and Danny Glover, who are spliced into a story about friendship, ageing and living your life, and give the "avatar cast" plenty of room to play different characters from last time around.
Half of what made Face/Off work so well was the over-the-top personality that is Nicolas Cage, making Travolta's impersonation of Cage a surprisingly clever concept, and giving Travolta one of the most fun roles of his entire career. Welcome to the Jungle didn't really play with this notion, happy instead to swap genders, or turn a neuroses - or give characters vulnerability to cake - but the sequel goes straight for the Face/Off of it all, to delicious effect, particularly for those who have grown up with the two Dannys and know their intonation, angle of head and mannerisms beyond even what is established in the opening few minutes.
Soon, you completely forget that it's Johnson, Hart and even Black in the movie (the gorgeous Gillan, well, she thankfully, after showing her mettle in Endgame, gets loads more to do this time around - and even wears appropriate clothes - but also doesn't really have to go left-field as much as the others) and, as such, it elicits some of their best comedy performances. It was great to see neurotic and insecure Dwayne Johnson in the last movie (a million miles from his Hobbs character), but super-grouchy Johnson is just as superb, and Hart, well, he just nails it. He'll just have fans (particularly those really in on the joke) laughing every time he opens his mouth.
A fabulously entertaining, hilarious, and heartfelt family adventure which is the most fun way to round out 2019 at the cinema
It's so well done that you almost wonder whether the actors who are being impersonated were asked to act through the script of the entire movie, and the people playing them then watched the videos on repeat to get the mannerisms and little tics just right. Even Black, who gets to go large this time around, is on fire, and the later addition of Crazy Rich Asians' Awkwafina is a genius move to spice up the second act - just around the time when audiences might be thinking that this is going to be a long two hours if they just keep going with the same jokes, the film finds a way to keep the surprises coming (hell, even the horse is a clever touch). And at the end of it all, when the gags have been depleted, there's a touching core about growing old which is certainly more than you'd expect from this kind of blockbuster, and a welcome bit of heartfelt depth.
Jumanji: The Next Level isn't going to be up for any awards, but, if you actually think about it, it actually requires a fair amount of versatility out of its lead cast, who rise to the challenge of mixing things up this time around, and deliver a fabulously entertaining, regularly hilarious - there are some wonderful belly-laughs in there, but also, as stated, a pretty persistent chuckle just from Hart's mutterings - and surprisingly thoughtful and heartfelt family adventure, which is likely to be the most fun way to round out 2019 at the cinema.
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