de facto film reviews 3.5 stars

Two years ago, four high school kids, Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Martha (Morgan Turner), and Bethany (Madison Iseman) discovered Jumanji, a magical board game that turned itself into a dangerous adventure video game. Taking on the roles of Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillian) and Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), they learned to look past their differences and work together to beat the game.

Now, the friends have gone their separate ways, but still keep in touch. Spencer, however, is longing to be the powerful Bravestone again, and manages to bring the game back to life. When Fridge, Martha, and Bethany find out, they decide to re-enter and bring him back. But things are different. The damage the game sustained has changed the world and created a brand new adventure for our heroes to embark on.

Only this time, they’re not the same people as before. This time, Bravestone is being controlled by Spencer’s Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito), while Mouse is under the control of his ex-friend Milo Walker (Danny Glover). As two old guys, they don’t quite understand what is going on, much to the dismay of Martha and Fridge, the latter of whom is now controlling Professor Oberon. Thrust into an unfamiliar adventure and characters they don’t know how to control, they must brave the new dangers that await them as they work to save Jumanji again and return to the real world.

Many would agree that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was much better than it had any right to be. No one wanted another Jumanji film, especially when Robin Williams passed away. However, thanks to the well-chosen cast and surprisingly strong storyline, it was more than just a mediocre cash grab of a sequel. So, how does the newest entry in the franchise turn out? Turns out, pretty well.

Jumanji: The Next Level is the best kind of sequel. It takes the formula that worked for the last film, and gives it enough of a fresh spin to be just as thrilling and funny. Much of the film’s humor relies on the characters switching avatars and getting used to each other’s abilities, and they manage to have enough successful gags to keep the gimmick from getting old. It was hard to expect the studio to successfully recreate the surprisingly fun spirit of the last film, but they managed to do it and then some.

A lot of the film’s success is, like the last film, thanks to the amazing chemistry between the cast, both in the real world and in the game. Wolff, Blain, Turner, and Iseman feel like genuine friends, while Johnson, Hart, Gillian, and Black really feel like they’ve been working together for years. There is a strong bond among the entire cast that makes their shtick and adventure so much more entertaining.

Even the newcomers to the cast help keep the film fun. Danny DeVito and Danny Glover bring a new layer of effective comedy with their own character arcs regarding their dissolved. Even Awkwafina, someone who has never really impressed me with her style of comedy, is great in her role. Maybe it’s because she’s not really playing her usual character. Either way, she’s finally in a role that has entertained me.

The film’s story also aids in keeping things interesting. It is pretty much the same kind of mission as the first film, and that does make it kind of easy to predict. However, they somehow manage to add enough to keep it from feeling too much like a shot-for-shot rehash. There are lots of new locations aside from the traditional jungle setting that make for great new action sequences that are just as thrilling as the first film.

Jumanji: The Next Level gives us more of everything we loved from the previous film, but with enough added twists and turns to keep it fresh and funny. It feature more of the entertaining chemistry of the cast members, and keeps things on their toes with its new adventure and characters. With the door left open for even more sequels to follow, it’s safe to say that Jumanji 4 may be on its way, and as long as it continues to follow this formula, it’s an adventure that will be worth taking.