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Review: 'Jumanji: The Next Level' is a little different, mostly the same

Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black and Karen Gillan (Photo: Sony Pictures)

Jumanji: The Next Level
3 out of 5 Stars
: Jake Kasdan
Writer: Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Chris Van Allsburg (book)
Starring: Karen Gillan, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
Rated: PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: Having gone in separate directions to attend college, Bethany, Fridge, Ashley and Spencer arrange to meet while home on Christmas break. Spencer, longing for the feelings that he felt while trapped in the body of video game character, Dr. Smolder Bravestone, returns to the virtual world of Jumanji. To rescue their friend, Bethany, Fridge and Ashley decide to follow Spencer back into Jumanji.

Review: I remember being incredibly frustrated with "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle." The film got more wrong about video games than it got right. Still, there were moments where the film worked beautifully and the performances, particularly Jack Black’s over-the-top take on being a teenage girl trapped in a man’s body, helped to distract from the missed opportunities.

"Jumanji: The Next Level" is more of the same. I’d argue that the performances are stronger. Certainly, Dwayne Johnson does more acting than I ever remember him doing and Karen Gillan, Jack Black and Kevin Hart are as likable here as they were the first time around. The addition of Awkwafina, Danny DeVito and Danny Glover also makes the cast stronger. But the story is a downgrade from the previous effort as it recycles a lot of the last film’s jokes and finds new ways to suggest that some of the writers have never actually played a video game.

There are moments when the screenplay attempts to add a more serious layer to the proceedings, but those scenes tend to devolve into glossy emptiness of a Hallmark movie. Real-world Spencer’s insecurity could be an interesting theme to explore, but here it just serves as a hollow plot device that is quickly dismissed when he reconnects with Bravestone’s smoldering stare. To be fair, the Jumanji franchise is probably not the place to delve into the darker aspects of escapism, self-confidence and video gaming.

There are also stretches, particularly during the film’s final act, that work marvelously as it captures the essence and absurdity of video games. I wanted more of those moments.

How you felt about “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is probably how you’ll feel about its sequel. Those wanting something more akin to the original “Jumanji” film will have to wait for the next film. Assuming there is another sequel. Sony certainly hoping so.