PG-13 for language, action, and crude humor. I can't use my six-year-old as a litmus test anymore. He was perfectly fine with all of the terrifying things in Jumanji: The Next Level, but got freaked out by a black eye in The Wizard. He's off the table for measuring if something is too scary for little kids. Like Welcome to the Jungle, there's lots of scary CG terrors. But the big thing I get uncomfortable with is the language and the sex jokes. It's got a PG-13 rating for a reason. But my kid really likes movies about video games and I'm a weak parent during quarantine. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jake Kasdan
It's funnier! I get what everyone digs about Kevin Hart. He's *ahem* NEXT LEVEL funny! I'm ashamed of it, but not enough to hit backspace or refuse to share this. I read one review from Gamestop that said this movie was dumb. You know what, cynical GameStop? You were super casual about Coronavirus, so I'm going to disregard what you have to say about Jumanji: The Next Level. (Okay, there's at least two logical fallacies right there, but I'm really struggling to get started today, so forgive them.)
From an entirely evaluative perspective, I may have liked Jumanji: The Next Level more than Welcome to the Jungle. I really liked Welcome to the Jungle, so I don't know which way is up at this point. These were movies that I had completely written off and thought that they were going to be dumb. I won't ever say that they are smart movies, because they are pretty basic. But there is a lot to enjoy. These are well paced movies with charismatic actors who really get comic timing. There's an engaging story throughout. It's kind of like a low-stakes superhero movie. It's a better video game movie than actual video game movies. Maybe because there's no source material to tie it to. The movies have so long ago abandoned the children's book that it has become its own beast. But this concept is a fun one.
But since I gush, I do have to look at it with a critical eye. There's going to be some blurred lines between the analysis portion of this and the evaluative portion. That's nothing new, but I do want to get it out there. The problem with sequels is that you have to have characters either stagnate or grow. I'm a big advocate of having characters grow instead of retreading the same old character flaws that they had in the first movie. The Next Level does some good things with this idea, but also goes into some really dangerous territory. The side characters have all maintained a sense of healthy growth from the first film. Martha, Bethany, and Fridge all kept their growth from the first film. That's great and it works really well with the film. Because Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Jack Black can all technically play different characters in the same franchise, it gives them something new to do.
But Spencer? Man, that's a really dangerous choice to make without having consequences. Spencer decided to stay the same. While everyone in the first film learned about their character flaws, Spencer is still the same insecure butthead he was in the first film. I give Kasdan a small free pass on this one because it is teased in the first film. At the end of Welcome to the Jungle, Spencer is the one who wants to stay inside the game. It's really weird because he's the protagonist. But in this film, by having Spencer willingly repair the game kind of puts him on the path to villainy.
Think about this: Spencer finds self-worth in the video game. It's this silver lining to a horrible situation. All of the people he cares about almost died. To enter the game the first time was an accident that brought them all together. But Spencer, desperate for that love and adulation, goes into the game again because he got a high from it. He's basically putting a gun to his friends' heads and demanding that they love him again; that it be like old times again. That's really uncomfortable. I'm going to go into a problematic analogy, but it works for me. Think about that level of patriotism and unity that happened after 9/11. 9/11 was awful and no one wishes that anything like that happened again. But again, there was a silver lining. What Spencer is doing is that same thing.
You could argue that Spencer never intended to get his friends involved. I may be remembering this poorly, but I feel there was a line that Spencer said that he never intended to get anyone else trapped in the game. But he also knew that it was a game that only worked with other players cooperating. The franchise clearly establishes that Jumanji doesn't work as a one player game. This creates an even more troubling scenario. It's either that A) Spencer wants to rekindle his friendships through video game superiority, putting everyone at risk or B) he commits suicide for a virtual heaven. The movie giving him a stern warning on either case is a big problem.
The movie acknowledges that Spencer is in the wrong with this act. But the tonal comedy for the film kind of lets him off the hook because they never verbalize why it's wrong. I totally admit that if this scene happened, it would kill the film. It would be a huge bummer to talk about Spencer and his evil or Spencer and his clear depression. But the movie was so desperate to get these characters back into the game that it kind of violated the rules of storytelling. Again, I would adore to have that moment where Spencer is called out on his B.S., but that would kind of stand in the way of having Kevin Hart doing an amazing Danny Glover impression for the majority of the film.
Secretly, I may simply love this movie for Kevin Hart's Danny Glover impression. There's nothing really wrong with anything else in the movie, with the exception of Dwayne Johnson / Karen Gillan's Danny DeVito impression being pretty generic. But the old people playing video games conceit works so darned well. I could honestly watch a whole 'nother movie with that dynamic happening. It just has a lot of legs and I never got bored of that joke. But I was mentioning the genius that is Jumanji as a franchise. This movie proved that you could get big name actors coming back to technically play the same parts over and over again, and give them something to play with. While I don't know if Jack Black nailed the woke Bethany, the movie sells. It's a bummer that Karen Gillan still has to play Martha, but the rest of the movie slaps completely. It's so fun seeing these characters in the same outfits in a similar situation, but acting completely differently and it makes sense. It's never really overwhelmed by its central conceit.
I went from hating the idea of these movies to absolutely loving them. It's funny that I write all these negative things about a movie that I enjoyed more than the first one, but that Spencer thing is dark the more I think about it. The fact that this had to happen to Spencer may be a criticism of how the entire thing shouldn't have a sequel. I had to add mythology to Jumanji because mythology for a light-hearted franchise always drags the movies down into misery, but there have to be other ways to get these characters to interact. Regardless, I dug this movie so hard. I did embarrassing Dad laughs throughout.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.