Friday, December 13, 2019

Comedy-adventure Gold: Jumanji:The Next level Goes Above and Beyond the Classic

Frank Masi © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Only one film franchise spans three decades of capturing the imaginations of what it’s like living out our favorite games: Jumanji! From the classic board game-based film in 1995 to the video reboot a little over two years ago in 2017, these films have never disappointed. This new installment in the, expected to go even longer, three-part (four if you really know your Jumanji lore) movie franchise, Jumanji: The Next Level brings back the last sequel’s cast and adds surprise performances, ageless relatable wisdom, and new adventures making for a great Christmas season release. Returning with the strong talents of what now must be considered one of the best comedy movie duos, in Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, along with Jack Black and Karen Gillan, only proves this is a recipe for comedy-adventure movie success and with a fun plot twist, this movie is definitely not just another old run at the Jumanji video game. 

Becoming friends in high school after surviving their first stumble into the jungle in 2017’s reboot made our real-world heroes Spencer (Alex Wolff), his shy girlfriend Martha (Morgan Turner), football star Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) and digital princess Bethany (Madison Iseman) expect to be friends always and forever. Yet, only a couple of years later, while all of them are off to college on their own, the distance has separated and changed their friendships. Spencer, still awkward and not yet finding himself turns back to the game to maybe retrieve some of the confidence his favorite character, Dr. Braverstone, has to spare. When the remaining friends can’t find Spencer they end up getting sucked into the game in search of him. This conceptually is not much different than the last movie, but director and co-writer Jake Kasdan has a few tricks up his sleeve to make this new adventure a unique one.

USA Premiere of Jumanji The Next Level © 2019 Eric Charbonneau

The return of the cast from Into The Jungle is enhanced with the addition of some new characters including acting legends Danny DeVito and Danny Glover. The impact of their roles in the film adds new themes that expand the reach of this movie and truly does take it to the next level. Considering DeVito and Glover are much older than the rest of the cast, writers were able to add a valuable and often ignored theme: the internal perspective of getting old and facing one’s mortality and the need to forgive others to be able to get out of our own way. This is all delivered in perfect comedic timing in an easily found chemistry between the two legendary actors. However, their impact on the film doesn’t end there. 

Frank Masi © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In a major and very fun twist in this new sequel, we are now re-introduced to one of the most fun comedic turns in movies. Since our college student heroes don’t get to pick their avatars before they get sucked into the game due to reasons from the previous flick, we get a wild mix up of characters that the avatars must mimic. This character body-swapping is proven movie gold. Spencer is not Dr. Braverstone again and our obvious and safe transition of Fridge into the zoologist is no more. Instead, it is great fun to see the mountain of a man that is Dwayne Johnson channel the much smaller and quirky Danny DeVito, with unique mannerisms and changes in the pitch of his voice that make the smoldering intensity of Dr. Braverstone battle the rude and far from smoldering Grandpa Eddie in what surely must have been a challenge for Johnson. An even further stretch is having Kevin Hart slow down his trademark fast-talking to emulate Grandpa Eddie’s best friend Milo played by Danny Glover with his famous calm, one word at a time speech. It lends itself to hilarious moments. 

Frank Masi © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

A surprise appearance by the multi-talented Awkwafina continues the body-swapping fun as she also gets to play as Spencer and Danny DeVito’s unique grandpa Eddie, the two real-world people within the Ming video game character shell. Another fun surprise is the unexpected return of Colin Hanks and his avatar, Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough played by the very popular Nick Jonas. All in all, an all-star cast that does more for the movie than even the trademark wild animal attacks and beautiful natural settings Jumanji is known to have.

There are interesting topics brought up in JTNL that are totally unexpected and make the movie much deeper emotionally without disrupting the pace. A big part of that is directly attributed to the welcoming of the Danny’s. Their addition opens the door to deeper themes that are really felt through the senior-aged actors’ performances. The idea of getting old is a scary one for us all, and DeVito and Glover bring it front and center in varying perspectives. Grandpa Eddie is mad at his age and has not enjoyed getting there, having problems with his hip and what seems like his hearing. While Glover, the more mature and put together of the two has aged gracefully but is looking to reconcile with his best friend. Together, they teach each other the value that comes with age and that it still does not have to define you; capsulated by DeVito’s final lines where he says that “[g]etting old is a gift.” Even through their younger and stronger avatars, Johnson and Hart maintain the impact of this important motif that hits the audience in their feels over this strained friendship that reconciles during the many jungle dangers.

Frank Masi © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Is Jumanji the Next Level for Younger Children?

One important parental note: My daughter, at 7 years old, was actually not happy dealing with the allowances of profanity that a PG-13 rating provides. Mind you, I might need my mouth washed with soap every so often, so the curse words are not strange to her by any means (unfortunately). Yet, I’ve been lucky enough up to now that she doesn’t like them and scolds me every time I use them. She did the same during the movie. Bothered by the emphasized “God Damn’s” and “Holy Shit’s”. She also told us later that she “doesn’t have the brain to understand the adult jokes”, reminding me of the one thing I look for in kid’s movies, the focus on the kids’, not the adults’ entertainment. We all laughed and enjoyed it, for sure, but this sequel deserved the pg-13 rating. Not a tough critique, just parents be aware. I think the lessons and thoughtfulness in the movie far outweigh missing this movie over curse words your child surely has heard before.

Jumanji: The Next Level is a fun comedy-adventure flick that builds on the legacy of the Jumanji franchise and opens the gate for the series to continue if wanted. The cast pulls off silly humor along with some stronger points and life lessons without skipping an adventurous beat. My little girl became a Jumanji fan earlier this year when we saw the original movie together for the first time and though she did not see Jumanji: Into the Jungle, this new sequel can stand out on its own while making you schedule a viewing of the previous one.

Jumanji: The Next Level hits theaters today, Friday, December the 13th. Don’t let the superstitious day scare you, our heroes do not scare easily and turn bad situations into fortuitous outcomes. Grab your gear and come back to the jungle!

Contributor: Sergio G. has a tween daughter and works daily to cohesively co-parent with her mother here in NYC. He is a CUNY graduate with a bachelor's in Public Administration and a minor in English. He works at an NY accounting firm during the day but his passion lies in the arts. 

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