Sunday, December 15, 2019

Jumanji: The Next Level

So, how the heck was I looking forward to this movie when I didn't much like the first (or second, or third, depending on how you count them)? Is it just the really good cast, or is familiarity just that powerful a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the movies? I mean, it's better and it looked better in the trailers, and I suppose I smiled a few times when I would look up and see bits of Welcome to the Jungle playing on the bus between Boston and Portland, ME when going home for Thanksgiving and returning, so there's that.

(Aside: I was arguing with a person who said modern movies didn't have room for some of the things that were in old movies, and I pointed out that new films tend to be longer. As evidence, I offer up how Welcome to the Jungle was too long for the two-hour bus ride from Boston to Portland, something that has been happening more frequently of late, and almost never did ten years ago. Similarly, I was kind of shocked when the 7pm movie plus AMC's trailer show had me next looking at a clock at 9:30pm.)

Smallish crowd for this one in one, but I kind of consider myself lucky that we're getting 3D shows during "prime time" at all these days. And though some may call this blasphemy, I was weirdly disappointed that parents were shushing their kids during the previews. They're kids, let them react. If the movie's good, they won't need to ask questions or read off the screen because they're into it.

Jumanji: The Next Level

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 13 December 2019 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

I was probably a little harsh on the last film in this series when it came out, considering that I found myself looking forward to the sequel as it's trailers appeared (although I didn't exactly feel a need to re-watch it before seeing the new one). The Next Level is a better movie in part because, while Welcome to the Jungle wasn't great, it got all the explanation and set-up out of the way. This time around, the filmmakers know their strengths and weaknesses, and even if they're not taking chances, they know what they're doing.

It starts with the four kids from the last movie - Spencer (Alex Wolff), Martha (Morgan Turner), Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain), and Bethany (Madison Iseman) - graduated from high school and in their freshman year of college (or a gap year for Bethany), getting back together on Christmas break. Spencer's grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) is also staying at his house, recuperating from hip surgery, grumpily avoiding his old friend Milo (Danny Glover), who he hasn't talked to for twenty years. That's why, when Spencer apparently recovers and repairs the game system that sucked them into an adventure game last time, Milo and Eddie are sucked in along with Martha and Fridge, while Bethany has to find Alex (Colin Hanks), the man they rescued last time, for help getting back in, where almost all the identities are scrambled: Martha is still the kick-ass fighter Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), but Fridge became schlubby professor Sherry Oberon (Jack Black), while Eddie is the muscular Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), and Milo the equipment-toting Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), with new player character Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina) and pilot Seaplane (Nick Jonas) showing up later.

The biggest strength of the previous film was the cast, and that's still the case here, perhaps even more so: The way the script swaps them around and gives them new things to do turns out to be a hoot, with Dwayne Johnson playing out Eddie's pugnaciousness (he continues to recognize that he's at his funniest playing as far against type as possible), Kevin Hart doing the opposite, Jack Black continuing to be a good sport, and Karen Gillan managing to hold everything together as the put-upon rock of the group. It's kind of a bummer that the film isn't set up to give the audience more of actual Danny Devito and Danny Glover, because it is a ton of fun to watch those two pros work. It's no surprise that Awkwafina turns out to be a great addition, but considering that she's got roughly one minute to sell the audience on her playing someone familiar, she manages exceptionally well - and she's got to do it twice!

Full review on EFilmCritic

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