‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ review: Danny DeVito steals every scene in a video game movie you’ll never want to stop playing

Hollywood’s funniest old-timer adds wit to a reinvigorated format

Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle was, undeniably, a massive success. It grossed nearly a billion dollars at the box office, got a shedload of positive reviews and jumpstarted a long-dormant franchise in the process. In our current year of big-budget flops (Terminator: Dark Fate, Charlie’s Angels, Men In Black: International), here is an example of how to reboot correctly. So, when it comes time for the sequel, how do you take things to the next level? Well, you call for Danny DeVito, of course.

Hobbling into frame as a crotchety grandpa, DeVito steals nearly every scene of this smartly reworked follow-up – even when he’s not actually on camera. And that’s the clever bit. Previously, each hero’s avatar was fundamentally different to their real-life persona. Muscled jock Fridge became zoologist Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart); academic whizz Martha turned into kick-ass Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan); geeky Spencer was Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) and popular girl Bethany played a podgy, middle-aged nerd (Jack Black’s map expert Shelly Oberon). But for Jumanji: The Next Level, the cast has been switched around and added to. Instead of mimicking two relative unknowns, Hart and The Rock are tasked with putting their spin on comic legend DeVito and ‘80s icon Danny Glover. 

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Sucked into the titular video game alongside their grandchildren and friends, the ageing pair must brave arid deserts and snow-capped mountains in order to escape. Remember, each character has three lives inside virtual Jumanji, but lose those lives within the game and you won’t respawn in the real world either. Cue death-defying action sequences, murderous CGI monsters and some of the most accurate impressions you’ll see on screen. Seriously, Kevin Hart was born to play Glover, while Johnson expertly scratches his head and grumbles in a thick New York accent. Even new cast member Awkwafina (Crazy Rich Asians) gets in on the act with a nicely-judged rendition of DeVito’s signature “whaaaat?” Later, Gillan and Black get to swap bodies too, with less amusing but still enjoyable results.

Jumanji the next level
Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black and Dwayne Johnson in ‘Jumanji: The Next Level’. Credit: Sony

Comically, it’s a total riot – and these constant character switches provide most of the fun. Sure, there’s some ingenious challenges that the gang must tackle – a series of moving bridges, several shiny stones to collect and an attack from a herd of giant ostriches – but these self-contained scenes never impact the plot and it often feels like we’re just treading water before the next bit of exposition. As with the original, this family-friendly version of Face/Off works best when you don’t think about it too much. But take it for what it is – an undemanding yet solidly entertaining mainstream blockbuster – and you’ll find it rises above the competition quite nicely. Did we mention it’s got Danny DeVito, too?

Details

  • Director: Jake Kasdan
  • Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan
  • Release Date: 11 December 2019
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