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  • by Wes Singleton

Jumanji: The Next Level - B-

Rated PG-13, 123 minutes

The new action sequel "Jumanji: The Next Level," the follow-up to the blockbuster 2017 hit "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle," is more of the same: loads of action, humor and fun led by an all-star cast. Is "The Next Level" worth re-entering the game? Of course it is, and while it's nothing new, often redundant and packed with too many characters, it's fairly mindless, enjoyable entertainment that most of the whole family can enjoy.

Unknown to his friends, Spencer (Alex Wolfe) kept the pieces of the Jumanji video game and then turns up missing when he re-enters the game. When Spencer's friends Bethany (Madison Iseman), Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), and Martha (Morgan Turner) arrive, they decide to re-enter Jumanji to save Spencer. Spencer's grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his friend Milo Walker (Danny Glover) inadvertently get sucked into the game too before any of Spencer's friends can select their avatars. The friends, now as avatars Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Professor Shelly Oberson (Jack Black), Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillian), Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), Seaplane McDonough (Nick Jonas) and new avatar Ming Fleetfoot ("The Farewell's" Awkwafina) must find Spencer and again escape Jumanji one last time.

The energetic, charming "The Next Level" is written, produced and directed by Jake Kasdan, director of "Welcome to the Jungle," which itself was a sequel to the iconic 1995 Robin Williams hit of the same name, all of which is very loosely based on the 1980's children's book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. The 2017 was a tremendous amount of fun, thanks mainly to a closely knit and exceedingly appealing cast, all of whom return here; "The Next Level" doesn't necessarily offer anything new as much as provide another extension of the "Jumanji" universe.

Kasdan infuses a lot of elements, including some impressive action sequences - one involving ostriches should be a favorite - which will evoke memories of other films, such as "The Lion King," "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and even "Game of Thrones." What's less impressive is the script, which is murky and a flimsy excuse to get back into the game; if that's not enough, Kasdan unnecessarily adds a few new characters to an already busy movie; the reason the first one worked well was its chemistry of the four.

The Danny's - DeVito and Glover - are nice additions, though the film spends too much time on their backstory, making the film longer than necessary. The best addition is that of the uber-charming Awkwafina, who feels so relaxed here you almost think she was part of the original film. Of those returning, Black again steals the most scenes, with all four getting in good scenes, though not as much as "Welcome to the Jungle."

"Jumanji: The Next Level" is funny, action-packed and even with all it offers, still not as good as the previous film. And in a film franchise like this, never say never, because it does leave it wide open to more of these, of which there probably will be. Go, have a good time, because there will be likely another excuse to get back into the game pretty soon.