Fantastic 'Jumanji' sequel pairs laughs with thrills, spectacular visuals

  • Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black) and Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) do a bit of body-switching in the spectacular fantasy adventure "Jumanji: The Next Level."

    Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black) and Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) do a bit of body-switching in the spectacular fantasy adventure "Jumanji: The Next Level." Courtesy of Sony

 
 
Updated 12/11/2019 10:52 AM

"Jumanji: The Next Level" -- ★ ★ ★

In his sequel "Jumanji: The Next Level," director/co-writer/producer Jake Kasdan becomes so enamored with two spectacular set pieces -- one involving stampeding ostriches, the other a nod to MC Escher with constantly moving suspended rope bridges -- that he threatens to blunt their impact by letting them go too long.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Not to worry.

At a slightly overstuffed 123 minutes, "The Next Level" packs in astonishing action scenes along with crisply crafted dialogue, character-driven humor and surprisingly warm, affectionate moments to reign as the best of the "Jumanji" adventures so far.

The movie's uneventful opening scenes take time to re-establish the original high school characters from 2017's "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle," and adds two spunky senior citizens to the story.

Martha (Morgan Turner), Bethany (Madison Iseman) and Fridge (Ser'darius Blain), now college students, try to connect with their missing friend Spencer (Alex Wolff).

Meanwhile, Spencer's grumpy Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) grouses with his ex-business partner Milo (Danny Glover), an old estranged buddy apparently trying to make amends for something from their past.

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These chatty opening scenes have a purpose. They let us hear how these characters talk and interact so that once they enter the video game world, we can marvel at how much their Jumanji avatars sound and act like them.

The plot begins when Spencer reactivates and re-enters the magical video game from "Welcome to the Jungle." (Why isn't exactly clear, but who cares?)

Martha, Fridge, Milo and Eddie go into the game to find Spencer. Inexplicably, the game leaves Bethany behind.

In Jumanji, grumpy Eddie becomes Dr. Smolder Bravestone (played again by Dwayne Johnson), Milo turns into zoologist Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), Fridge morphs into cartographer/archaeologist/paleontologist Dr. Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon (Jack Black) and Martha evolves into the Wonder Woman lite Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan).

Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black) must join forces in Jake Kasdan's fun adventure sequel "Jumanji: The Next Level."
Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black) must join forces in Jake Kasdan's fun adventure sequel "Jumanji: The Next Level." - Courtesy of Sony
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

They eventually discover Spencer inside an avatar named Ming, a petty pickpocket played with plenty of pluck by actress Awkwafina from "The Farewell."

Nigel Billingsley (Rhys Darby), the resident NPC (non-player character), says that if the students and seniors want to return home, they must save Jumanji by retrieving the Falcon Jewel from a villain named Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann, the Hound from "Game of Thrones").

"The Next Level" constantly pelts us with surprises, and features more characters jumping in and out of bodies than in any of those body-switch comedies popular during the 1980s.

The visual effects in "The Next Level" have come a long way since the original 1995 "Jumanji," an early pioneer of computer-generated characters based on an old-school board game.

Now upgraded to a video game, "Jumanji: The Next Level" offers stunning effects finessed by likable actors who don't let the visuals overpower them. (Johnson is particularly hilarious while channeling DeVito's crusty curmudgeon.)

For film fans, "The Next Level" even tosses in references to "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Or, given that two senior Dannys are in the cast, "Raiders of the Lost AARP" may be more appropriate.

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Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Awkwafina, Danny Glover, Danny DeVito, Colin Hanks

Directed by: Jake Kasdan

Other: A Sony Pictures release. Rated PG-13 for violence, language, suggestive content. 123 minutes

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