Blu-ray Review: Jumanji: The Next Level

When it was announced that a new Jumanji film was going to be released in 2017 it was met with the usual, “Hollywood is out of ideas,” and “You’re going to ruin my childhood” comments online – you know, because the original Jumanji is a film that’s constantly referred to when people talk about timeless classics, right? Yet, in unsurprising fashion, Jumanji (which is said to be a sequel to the 1995 flick, but I’d say it’s more of a reimagining that stands on its own) became a smash hit, and the studio quickly put plans in motion for a sequel.

Enter Jumanji: The Next Level, where the entire cast of the first film from both in and out of the game return, as well as some fresh faces to the mix. While the first film had a sort of Breakfast Club vibe to it in terms of how the characters came together and became friends, the sequel is a tad weaker in its setup to how everyone enters the game once again. There’s Martha (Morgan Turner), Bethany (Madison Iseman) and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) who are all making plans via text about how great it’ll be to catch up once they’re all back in town over Christmas break. Spencer (Alex Wolff) is also in the chat, but he’s more hesitant about seeing everyone again.

We find out during a chat between Spencer and his grandfather, Eddie (Danny DeVito), that Spencer isn’t sure who he is anymore and has lost his confidence since he moved away to New York. So much so that he’s not even sure if he and Martha are dating anymore, which, seems like a hard thing not to know one way or another. Either way, he heads to the basement in the middle of the night and decides to try and rebuild the console they broke at the end of the first movie so that he could once again take on the role of Bravestone (played by Dwayne Johnson) in the game and regain his confidence.

That doesn’t go as planned, however, as his friends show up the next day looking for him, only to realize that he’s clearly been sucked back into the game. Meanwhile, Eddie’s former friend and partner, Milo (Danny Glover), shows up to talk to Eddie even though Eddie wants nothing to do with him. The gang downstairs decide they have to go back to Jumanji to save Spencer, and it shouldn’t be a big deal this time because they know what to expect since they’ve already beaten it. Unfortunately for them, the game is still on the fritz, and it yanks in Martha, Fridge and Eddie and Milo from upstairs, leaving Bethany behind to try and figure out what happened.

Again, it’s not the most compelling reason to get everyone back in the game, but once they are back it’s once again comedic gold and a lot of fun to watch. What’s also great is that the characters are all mixed around this time, with Eddie in the role of Bravestone and Milo as Mouse (Kevin Hart.) These two once again absolutely destroy it on the comedy front, taking on completely different personas than they had in the original film. Martha once again takes on the role of Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan,) who takes on the leadership role this time around; while Fridge lands in the body of Professor Sheldon (Jack Black,) who got to test out his chops as a teenage girl the first time around, and this time plays a disgruntled black athlete who is stuck in this out of shape form.

The phenomenal chemistry between these four actors is what makes these Jumanji films so spectacularly fun to watch. Everyone is just on fire the entire time, taking on the personality traits of the characters from the real world that have entered the game and pretty much complaining about it the entire time – if they even understand what’s going on. That was the brilliance of adding Eddie and Milo to the mix this time around, as the two do have their own story and it works well for this movie about coming together to survive the game; but above that, they’re two elderly guys who not only bring their older mannerisms into the game, but also their lack of understanding of technology or how video games even work.

Also joining the main cast this time around is Awkwafina, who plays the cat burglar Ming inside the game. I won’t delve too much into her character, but needless to say she’s a fits right in. Her comedic timing is spot-on and it allows her to seamlessly integrate herself into this group we’ve already grown to enjoy watching play together in the sandbox that is Jumanji.

I don’t think The Next Level quite reaches the same level of awesomeness and originality that its predecessor did, but that’s often hard for a sequel, let alone one that pretty much has to revisit the same concept and try to change it up a bit to make it fresh. As the viewer we know what to expect this time around, though I’ll give credit to screenwriters Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg, as they did a great job of turning things up a notch and adding plenty of interesting new takes on the world of Jumanji so that even though viewers may have an idea of what’s to come, it doesn’t really matter as it’s still a blast to watch unfold.

Whether or not this will work when everyone returns for the inevitable third trip to Jumanji is uncertain, but I’d say that at this point there’s no harm in just going nuts with it. Being able to mix up who the characters in the game represent in the real world keeps the jokes fresh and consistent once the game begins, so it’s just a matter of figuring out who fits best where and what game it is that they have to beat in order to escape once again. In the meantime, if you’re looking for something that’ll keep you laughing over the course of two hours, then fire up Jumanji: The Next Level and prepare to be entertained.

The film looks fantastic, moving through the jungle, to the desert and all the way up to the snowy mountains tops, each area has its own distinct vibe, and all are visually beautiful. The Blu-ray transfer is crisp, with vibrant colours, rich blacks and an all-around solid look. The audio mix is just as well-handled, with great surround sound, a fantastic audio mix, a great score, fun soundtrack and clean dialogue. All in all, both transfers compliment one another wonderfully and deliver a great home viewing experience.

Special Features:

Gag Reel – This is one of the more self-explanatory features on the disc, being various mishaps while filming that create a gag reel that’s just over 5-minutes in length and well worth the watch.

Body Swapping: Snapping into Character –
Another five and a half minute featurette here, where we see the actors talking about taking on the new characters this time around, and how they prepared for their changes.

Back Together: Reuniting the Cast – This 4-minute featurette just sees the cast gush about one another and how great it is to reunite for another trip to Jumanji. It’s clear that everyone gets along great, and this would be a really fun set to be a part of.

Level Up: Making Jumanji: The Next Level This is the longest feature on the disc, and sees the cast talk about the film, the story this time out, working with Director Jake Kasdan, and other aspects of the filming process.

Creating the Scene – This feature looks at two major scenes in the film, in the Ostrich Chase in the desert, and the Mandrill Bridge later in the film. This one comes in at just under 13-minutes in length, and breaks down the digital aspects of these scenes, as well as the physical aspects that went into it.

Rhys Darby Wants to Jingle – This is a featurette that’s just over two-minutes in length and sees Darby trying to set up a dance routine on set. Fun, quick watch for those interested.

Awkwafina Cat Burglar – This is a brief featurette that’s just under two-minutes and sees the actress talk about joining the cast and what her character is about.

NPC Confessions: Jurgen the Brutal – This featurette is just over 3-minutes in length and sees the character…well, in character, talking about his successes and failures.

Grow Up – This one is just over a minute in length and sees DeVito and Glover training Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart on how to portray them properly.

Telenovela – Again, this one is just over a minute in length and sees a poorly dubbed Spanish advertisement, which is fun.

Trick or Treat – This was used as promotional material, if I’m not mistaken, and sees Hart trick-or-treating at Johnson’s house. Brief, yet definitely funny stuff. These two love one another and it shows.

Select Scene Pre-Vis – The Ostrich Chase returns here, alongside the Zeppelin Battle, where you can view a side by side of the pre-vis and final versions of the sequences.

Sony Pictures Presents Jumanji: The Next Level. Directed by: Jake Kasdan. Written by: Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg. Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Awkwafina, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover. Running time: 122 Minutes. Rating: PG. Released on Blu-ray: Mar. 17, 2019.

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