By Kayla Caldwell
If you had told me last week that I would spend my Monday evening crying over the ending of “Jumanji: The Next Level,” I wouldn’t have believed you. Okay, I cry over almost everything. But still - “Jumanji: The Next Level?” And yet, there I was.
I won’t tell you why, because that would be what we call a spoiler. However, let’s go over what I can talk about. “Jumanji: The Next Level,” follows the protagonists from the 2017 film, Spencer (Alex Wolff), Martha (Morgan Turner), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), and Bethany (Madison Iseman). At this point, they’ve defeated the Jumanji video game, graduated high school, and started their college lives.
They’re all home for a school break, and thrilled to see each other again. Well, most of them are thrilled. Spencer seems to be having a bit of an existential crisis. Look, I get it. Big cities are hard. New York is one of the hardest. But at the mercy of all of this awkwardness and self-doubt, Spencer can’t help but think of a time when he was confident, strong, and - well, sexy. That time, of course, was when he was in Jumanji, as the avatar, Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson).
To add to his misery, Spencer comes home to find he is sharing his bedroom with his grandpa, Eddie (Danny DeVito), who is recovering from hip surgery. His monologues about this being the best time of Spencer’s life do not make the morose teen feel any better. So, when everyone is asleep, he sneaks downstairs to the basement, where it is revealed that he had gone back after we left off in the last movie to retrieve the damaged (and dangerous) video game.
This time, he unwisely makes the choice to return to the game alone. However, if he was expecting it to be a walk in the park, since he’d already been there, he had another thing coming. Jumanji wasn’t going to make things that easy for him. See, the game was still busted from when they all tried to destroy it last time. So, there was no way to choose your avatar. There goes his plan.
When Spencer fails to show up to brunch, the gang immediately knows something is wrong. Spurred on by Martha, the group decides to go back into the game to try and rescue their troubled friend. The only problem is, they’re not the only ones in the house when they decide to take the journey. Cut to old man Eddie and his former BFF Milo (Danny Glover) dropping into the jungle aside Martha (now in her avatar, played by Karen Gillan) and Fridge (in a new avatar for him, played by Jack Black).
This time, Eddie was inside the Bravestone avatar, while Milo took Fridge’s place as the zoologist (Kevin Hart). The Rock playing Danny DeVito is not something I ever thought I needed in my life, but, boy, was I wrong. Also, props to Black (and Blain!), for his hilarious reaction to the “Get Out”-esque visual of this tall, athletic young black man being stuck inside the short and stout body of the cartographer.
This time, gameplay is different. Forget about Van Pelt. He’s old news. Now, they’ve got to go up against the Hound from “Game of Thrones,” or, as they like to call him, Jurgen the Brutal. Yeah, no offense to Bobby Cannavale, but this round Jumanji certainly took it up a notch.
So what about Bethany? Well, due to a glitch (remember, the game was busted), she has to seek help before she can make her way into the game. And when she finally does… she turns up as a horse. A beautiful, gallant horse - but yes, her avatar is now a horse. As for who helps her in? Well, if you guessed Colin Hanks makes a return appearance as Alex (with Nick Jonas as his avatar), then perhaps you should be writing screenplays in Hollywood. (No, I'm just kidding. Don't pick up and move to LA just yet. There are far too many people here already.)
The chemistry between the characters was undeniable, bringing to mind other beloved crews, such as the kids from “Stand By Me” or “Stranger Things” (albeit older). The relationship between old friends (turned enemies - turned perhaps friends again?) Milo and Eddie was so touching, concluding with said moment that made me cry.
Tears aside, Johnson and Hart are hilarious, as expected. Of all the bad things in our current timeline, I sure do love that Johnson is a producer on just about everything he stars in now. “Jumanji: The Next Level” makes perfect use of his good looks and comedic timing, all while poking fun at his ego and larger-than-life personality.
And Hart, acting as the painfully slow-talking Milo, just never stopped being funny. One standout moment is when Milo asks, slowly, “Did I just kill Eddie by talking too slowly, like he always said I would?”
I’ll wrap this up before I give too much away, but let’s just say, if you’re looking for a fun, relaxing movie trip this holiday season, “Jumanji: The Next Level” will not let you down. You’ve got action, romance, comedy, sci-fi, and, well, The Rock. What more could you want?
“Jumanji: The Next Level” hits theaters December 13.
(All Images Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc)