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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Dec 8, 2019


‘JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE’ was one of the biggest hits of 2017 so it’s not surprising they’ve quickly come up with a sequel, “The Next Level”, released in time for the holiday season. “Jumanji” was first filmed in 1995 starring the late Robin Williams. It was still a board game then.

In the reboot, it became a video game, which they destroyed in the ending. But now, Spencer (Alex Wolff), returns home from Christmas and gets it back to repair it for another cash grab at the holiday box office playing the world’s most dangerous game.
Actually, the movie’s reason for the original gang to return into Jumanji is so thinly manufactured.

The four members of the original team, who met each other while in detention, have gone their separate ways and lead different lives. Bethany (Madison Iseman) enjoyed being a volunteer in building homes for needy people in some third world country (something like Gawad Kalinga). Martha (Morgan Turner) is having fun in college while Fridge (Darius Blaine) has become a college football jock.

As for Spencer, he is studying in New York and works on the side as a helper in a supermarket where he is verbally abused by his boss. He goes back home for the holidays but is hesitant to meet ex-GF Martha and their co-adventurers in the first movie, Fridge and Bethany.
He feels depressed and insecure about his relationship with Martha. And he now rooms with his ailing grandpa, Eddie (Danny DeVito), who gets a visit from an estranged old friend, Milo (Danny Glover).  So Spencer tinkers with the Jumanji video game for some adventure in his life and gets more than what he bargains for.

His friends then come to visit Spencer in his home and quickly figure out that he has played Jumanji again and is back in the video. They want to help rescue him, so Martha and Fridge also get sucked into the game, but not Bethany.

Instead, Spencer’s grandpa and his friend Milo are the ones who surprisingly get to join them in their new adventure in Jumanji.

Martha is back as her former avatar, martial artist Ruby (Karen Gillan) but Fridge now assumes the avatar of paleontologist Prof. Shelby Oberon (Jack Black) while Eddie becomes archaelogist-explorer Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock). Milo becomes the backpack-carrying zoologist Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart) who’s allergic to cakes.

They get to locate Spencer and he is now a Chinese burglar and safecracker, Ming (played by Awkwafina, who’s really making waves in Hollywood after her exposure in “Crazy Rich Asians”.)

Later on, they will switch identities again for more fun. Even Bethany gets to join them, but as a big beautiful horse who later flies as Milo. She has sought the help of Alex Vreeke (Colin Hanks, the son of Tom), who was previously trapped in the game for 20 years, and he joins them in Jumanji again as the young pilot Jefferson (Joe Jonas) who helps the four friends.

Their mission is to tackle various challenges before getting a precious stone from a barbarian thug, Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann), that will prevent them from being permanently trapped in Jumanji. As usual, expect some thrilling chase sequences (including one involving ostriches in the desert and another one involving deadly monkeys in hanging bridges).

Then there’s the usual humor and funny wisecracks, a reconciliation between warring friends, plus an ending that pays tribute to the 1995 Jumanji and promises another sequel.

The movie’s novelty factor is now gone but the multiple switching of the various characters is somewhat fresh, plus the addition of Awkwafina who steals some scenes. The big action scenes manage to be amusing as directed by Jake Kasdan, but they seem quite tame compared to the first one, considering they claim this to be the next level.

But viewers who enjoyed the action and the humor of the first movie, especially kids (like our own grandchildren, who kept on laughing all throughout), will most likely enjoy this movie, too.