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Jumanji: The Next Level adds action and laughs as new players come into the mix


When we last left our intrepid Jumanji heroes – oh, who am I kidding? It doesn’t matter what happened last time out, or to a large extent what happens this time out. The first 15 minutes of Jumanji: The Next Level is all about getting the gamers from the last film back into the digital realm so they can be played by Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart and Jack Black. Oh, and Nick Jonas.

And Awkwafina. And a horse. That’s because two newbies – well, old newbies – have also been sucked into the game. They are Danny DeVito and Danny Glover in the real world, but in Jumanji they are mostly played by Johnson and Hart, who do spot-on impersonations. How the Screen Actors Guild nominations missed this cast is beyond me.

Jumanji is director Jake Kasdan’s sequel to his popular 2017 film, itself a reboot of the 1995 original with Robin Williams. The previous one, while it didn’t put Johnson on the map, did put him in the khaki safari-wear that he’s barely taken off since; see Rampage and the Upcoming Jungle Cruise.

After young Spencer (Alex Wolff), in a fit of teen pique, re-enters the game, it’s up to his pals to return and free him. For reasons never quite explained in spite of having three screenwriters on the clock, Spencer’s grandfather and the old man’s former best friend and business partner also join the fray.

Being old, it takes a while for them to figure out what’s going on. “Are we dead?” asks grandpa. And then a while later: “Are we in Florida?” which I guess for him is the nearest thing to the afterlife. Imagine his shock if you told him that some people actually enjoy watching other people play video games, which is essentially what the film’s audience is doing.

Ah, but Johnson et al. are funnier and less profane than your average gamer; my 12-year-old son and I chuckled quite a few times throughout. And the film, which combines pixels from Inception, Jurassic Park, the Indiana Jones franchise and the steampunk realm – not to mention a few notes from Lawrence of Arabia in the score – rattles along at an amusing pace. You might not even notice it’s a shade over two hours.

There’s violence aplenty but, since it’s all inside a game (inside a movie), it doesn’t feel too abrasive. Humans get tossed around like cartoon characters, and no actual horses, ostriches or mandrills (they’re like baboons) were harmed.

The plot requires our heroes to solve several puzzles in order to escape, and while it would be a spoiler to say whether they make it, I can reveal that each of their in-game avatars has a checklist of strengths and weaknesses that will come in handy.

Also, happy to see Rhys Darby back as the game’s signature NPC. If you don’t know what that is, you can see Jumanji: The Next Level. Or next summer’s Free Guy with Ryan Reynolds. Or just ask your grandfather; he might have figured it out by now.

3 stars

Jumanji: The Next Level opens across Canada on Dec. 13.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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