Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)

We're not gonna make it

So Spencer repairs the game and this launched the story into Jumanji: The Next Level?

I’m too old for tricks cheap tricks. It used to be easy to enjoy favorite characters go off into another adventure that any sequel is wholeheartedly welcomed.  I have grown since then; now I love love details of a character, of a world built, so seriously that I believe there are certain paths a story should go. Characters deserve a good life or at least worthier causes than cheap sequels would have them do.

Is Spencer embarrassed with his side jobs?

The memory of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’s story is fuzzy now but seeing it through the main characters clearly illustrates its main points. Unpopular kids and popular kids had their lot in life switched around while trying to survive a game that came to life.

Computer game nerd Spencer takes the lead as Doctor Bravestone while football jock Fridge, all his training and power in the real world, is relegated in support as Franklin "Mouse" Finbar. Hot babe Bethany becomes a middle aged fat man with a sense of direction, and the unpopular girl Martha gets an inappropriate costume for a jungle all the while having deadly combat skills.

Switching their social status in the game gave confidence for the unpopular and humility for the jocks, creating a diverse and inclusive team which ultimately wins all challenges in the story. I enjoyed that movie and many others did too. It was a surprise hit in the theaters in 2017.

Looking for Spencer

Jumanji: The Next Level would have me swallow that Spencer abandons the team, resurrects a game the team collectively destroyed, and forgets the primary lesson that is it took a team to win the Jumanji. Also remember that the game was left destroyed in an alleyway next to a garbage bin so Spencer picked it up based on reasons that doesn’t appear obvious in the scene they destroyed it. 

Reassembling the game made a next level a hard sell even though computer games naturally have one.

Game of Throne's The Hound is Jurgen the Brutal

Bethany Walker gives the game a curious tap

As for the impetus for the reassembly, I can empathize losing all confidence in college when you’ve just about figured out high school. What I don’t buy is Spencer not trusting his friends in those struggles. 

Spencer almost died with them in the first movie and what more a test of character can you have with friends, who also maintain an active group chat? When I reached college there was no internet and you had to go to the trouble to just reconnect. Maybe if it were 5, 10, or 25 years I can understand drifting apart but after 1 year or less, with people so tested – no.

Friend's catching up

It is also natural in computer games to switch players. But the way The Next Level made use of this natural element failed to give any sense of novelty even with the addition of Danny DeVito as Grandpa Eddie, and Danny Glover, Eddie’s friend Milo Walker

Maybe the two Danny’s even made it worse. There may be no better sign that the team had nothing new to do than Eddie and Milo taking center stage.

The lines Eddie and Milo had dramatic weight
but do you want them in the game?

Eddie and Milo had control of the main players of Jumanji so the comedy The Next Level was aiming for was teaching games to 75 year old men. On one hand the approach feels like a rehash since the getting-to-know-your-powers part was already done in Welcome to the Jungle.

In another, hammering the point home more than once to persons not adept to computer games, much less magical ones, was by design thought of as funny, but in a life and death adventure the joke gets old easily.

Eddie and Milo, the old men in the spotlight

Kevin Hart (Franklin Finbar) feels more like a missed opportunity than comic relief as he tries to channel Milo Walker who has the verbal energy of a turtle. You love a sweet old man with stories but Milo takes too long and barely a direction. Dwayne Johnson doesn’t feel as wrong as Kevin when he channeled Eddie, but Danny DeVito’s charm is only for him and him alone. 

However unlike the leads, the brightest spot in this player switching tale is Jack Black (Prof. Shelly Oberon) is just perfect in any persona he’s playing: Fridge, Martha, and Bethany.

Touch my boobs and I will murder you

When Eddie and Milo lost the spotlight the players switched back to their rightful place, and once in their rightful “bodies” the team took off. There never were any issues, Spencer’s was casually explained away in one scene. It is that de-emphasis to the main team that gives weight to the feeling that we shouldn’t have this movie even while there are bright spots like Jack Black and something called the box office.

Finally as bad as Jumanji: The Next Level premise was, how it began, and played out, the movie had the perfect ending. Ironically a cliffhanger for sequel that I with all the disappointment I’ve written today would be interested in watching. That type of ending should have been in Welcome to the Jungle.

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