Anika Goes to the Movies: Jumanji: The Next Level

Quick Review: 3.75 out of 5 stars. This movie is fun, but there’s a lot of language for a supposed family flick. If the GD expletive is one you find particularly offensive and isn’t something you want normalized for your kids, skip this. If you are burnt out with the shopping and the wrapping and the impeachment and you just want to laugh, treat yourself to a fun afternoon or evening in Jumanji.

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Longer Review: This latest Jumanji, while being it’s own entity, seriously channels the first installment of the franchise featuring Robin Williams (we still miss you, man). The diversity of animal life involved and the active participation of animals in all the hijinks, the return of Aunt Nora played once more by the lovely Bebe Neuwirth, and the sense that all the danger is really real.

The issue with video game incarnation of Jumanji is the whole three lives thing. You can screw up twice, but then things get worrisome. In the first Jumanji ever threat the game manifested had the immediate potential to be permanently lethal. This time, part of the next level danger is that the life count on just about everybody tanks much faster. Everyone is running on one life left well before the climax. And the villains have a viciousness this time that channels the cold, calculating intensity of Jonathan Hyde who played both the hunter Van Pelt and austere father Sam Parrish.

The visuals of course, are stunning. The heroic antics this time around are made all the more hilarious as they are performed not as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson channeling a nerdy teen, but rather DJ channeling Danny Devito. Watching Kevin Hart slip seamlessly between his character of Danny Glover’s Milo Walker and college football muscle head, Fridge is super fun. The character of Fridge really makes the rounds this time being played by Jack Black, Karen Gillian, and Kevin Hart in turn.

The addition of Awkwafina to the mix as Spencer’s avatar Ming the thief, is delightful. Awkwafina is delightful. She’s on my celebs to have lunch with list, for sure.

Weaknesses here are the aforementioned language issue, much more than I remember in the first of this new wave of the property. I do think it’s a bit dark in places. The 1995 Jumanji was rated PG. Intense in places but totally a family movie. This one earns its PG-13 rating.

And the motivations for going back into the game are weak. Spencer is having a rough go of things in New York. His job consists of taking ridiculous orders from a mustached little man who is upset about the speed at which he stocks toothpaste, his studies are harder than anticipated, and he seems to have fallen back into his old patterns of folding into himself and shrinking away from the world. The lessons previously learned in Jumanji have faded. In an attempt to recapture the feeling of inhabiting Dr. Bravestone, and come on who wouldn’t want to inhabit the Rock’s body for awhile, he reconstructs the game console he and his friends destroyed. Frankly, a quarter life crisis seems like a lame reason to put yourself into a situation you know you cannot get out of alive on your own.

His friends are forced to come and get him, but the inadvertently drag Spencer’s grandpa Eddie and his estranged friend Milo Walker into the game with them. Some of the character growth is shockingly poignant and tender. Milo’s arc in particular is beautiful, and recalls the permanent way the game can change people’s lives.

Spencer’s, however is weak, like him. We don’t like him better at the end of this movie the way we do with the previous. And frankly, Martha can do better. She should dump his scrawny, insecure butt and find someone who isn’t intimidated by her Insta feed. Spencer shows no indication that he has reclaimed the part of Bravestone he seems to have lost in his real world self. So the end feels a little underwhelming there.

But it’s fun. And it’s funny. Super funny.

If you are burnt out on shopping and present wrapping and impeachment, take a break to go on a little adventure. You’ll be glad you did.

Until next time, enjoy the show.

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