Jumanji: The Next Level shakes up its premise with an avatar palooza. Every character from Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle returns, but with a fairly humorous twist. They unexpectedly switch bodies in the video game world. It's a successful gimmick that adds just enough creativity to the deluge of CGI animals and mammoth action sequences. New cast members spice up the recycled plot. Making Jumanji: The Next Level an enjoyable, though unremarkable, popcorn flick.
The film begins with Spencer (Alex Wolff) having a difficult freshman year at college in New York City. He struggles while Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), Bethany (Madison Iseman), and ex-girlfriend Martha (Morgan Turner) have eagerly adapted to post high school life. When Bethany arranges a reunion dinner over winter break, Spencer ignores the group's texts. But his misery increases at home. Spencer's grumpy Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) is recovering from hip surgery, in his room.
The gang gets worried when Spencer doesn't show up. They go to his house, where Eddie is having an argument with his old business partner, the long-winded Milo (Danny Glover). They race to the basement when they hear Jumanji's ominous drums. Spencer kept the pieces of the game and haphazardly reassembled it. They decide to return to Jumanji and rescue Spencer. But the game whisks away Eddie and Milo as well.
When they're transported to Jumanji, Eddie is Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson). Milo is now Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart). And Fridge, much to his annoyance, has become Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black). Only Martha has remained as Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). Left alone in the basement, Bethany races to the only person (Colin Hanks) who can help. In the game, the others embark on a new, more dangerous adventure to find Spencer.
The avatar switcheroo is a stroke of sequel genius. Dwayne Johnson doing his Danny DeVito impersonation is freaking hilarious. It gets better with Kevin Hart's spot on Danny Glover. Audiences will howl as the old men, in muscled younger bodies, have to be continually reminded they are in a video game. It's a clever ruse used to great effect. The one caveat is Jack Black's "black speak" as Fridge. The dialogue will straddle racial insensitivity for the politically correct crowd. Thankfully, there are multiple avatar switches as the plot progresses.
Jumanji: The Next Level has way too much going on. The comedy and action elements are diluted by an overly busy plot. New characters and settings are introduced constantly. What's entertaining becomes swept away by a narrative torrent. Director/co-writer Jake Kasdan wants his Jumanji sequel to be bigger in every way possible. A prosaic antagonist (Rory McCann) and Spencer's avatar, an underused Awkwafina, feel like unnecessary additions. Kasdan should have kept the focus on the primary players. Jumanji: The Next Level loses sight of its best attributes.
Keep an eye out for a cameo that hearkens back to the original Robin Williams film. It's a sign of more Jumanji adventures to come. The third installment of the franchise was better than expected. You'll laugh consistently throughout. Jumanji: The Next Level is produced by Columbia Pictures and Seven Bucks Productions with distribution from Sony Pictures.