I was looking forward to watching Jumanji: The Next Level as I really enjoyed the first installment of this remake with Dwayne Johnson and crew, and I finally got my chance on my recent flight back to Calgary from the UK last week. Initially I wondered if this new version would compare to the original Jumanji flick with the one-and-only Robin Williams (1995) who had headlined for our 2012 Owen Hart Foundation Event, and this reboot certainly did (FYI: all of us at the OHF loved Robin Williams so much!).
Fantasy films like this one are meant to be pure entertainment and this movie is just that, though with a few good life lessons embedded into the plot along the way. This fun sequel directed by Jake Kastan follows its earlier story-line (with a few unforeseen twists) of four quite different teenagers who in the first treatment originally meet up in high school detention, each in trouble for various reasons, and who via their punishment are commanded to clear out an old storage room whereupon they stumble across a weird old video game entitled Jumanji. Of course, for fun they plug it in, pick their avatar profiles, and voilà – they are magically sucked into the game. The foursome includes studious student Spence (Alex Wolff) who at the outset picks handsome hulky Dr. Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), while odd ball indie girl Martha (Morgan Turner) settles on beautiful kick-ass biologist Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and self-centered instragramer Bethany (Madison Iseman) takes nervous Professor Shelley who unbeknownst to her turns out to be a guy (Jack Black), while football athlete Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) selects jittery small in stature zoologist Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart). As the adventure begins none of the avatar characters turn out to be quite what the kids expect, which adds to the fun as the group go through a series of exciting and dangerous escapades to escape the game before all three of their lives are used up – a fate that would trap them in the game forever. Through the mishaps this unlikely quartet develop strong friendship bonds despite the differences in their real-life personalities.
The sequel picks up three years later with the same four friends now colleague students who have drifted apart on their adult quest to discover their way through life. This new chapter introduces Danny DeVito as aging former restaurateur Eddie (Spence’s grandfather) and Danny Glover as his elderly estranged friend/colleague Milo. The film opens with an uncertain Spencer (Alex Wolff) struggling with the direction of his adult life. In an attempt to recapture the invincible feelings he once felt as strong brave attractive adventurer Dr Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) he purposely slips back into the treacherous jungles of Jumanji where the adventure begins for a second time. Without giving anything away his distant friends join forces again and reenter the game to rescue him. Except this time there are a few added surprises reminiscent of the body switching Freaky Friday flick as the avatar profiles randomly pair-up game characters and players since the players in this continuation of the story did not pre-select them before entering the game.
With the foundation of Jumanji and its follow-up now laid out you may be wondering what the take-away message is of this light-hearted pleasant film? This picture does somewhat underscore the significance of fortitude as it relates to the inner self, and implies that the outer shell can look nice but it’s really what’s on the inside that creates the essence of the person, though I wouldn’t say this is the main take-away message of this film. Instead, similar to the first installment this sequel’s theme is the enduring power of friendship and how truly priceless it is. As American columnist Walter Winchell rightly stated, ‘A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.’ Union vs. Division – the potency of friendship is its ability to construct loyal camaraderie whereby individuals’ compliment and protect one another at any cost despite personal shortcomings and differences. In short, good friends/partners bolster each other’s weaknesses and admire their strengths. It goes without saying, great pals are in for the long haul; a valuable life lesson I highlight in in my book BrokenHarts ‘True friends are there when the bombs hit and when the dust settles.’ – Martha Hart.
In closing, I must admit I liked the first installment of this reboot film a bit more than the sequel as I thought the entire premise of the initial remake was so inventive. To elaborate, in the first film I really enjoyed watching the insecure characters gain confidence, namely Spence and Martha (I always love to see a pleasant yet powerful ‘Martha’ character! ha ha) as well as the amorousness that continued to build between the two throughout. With this in mind, you may ask why does Hollywood even make sequels instead of just creating original material? It’s simple – audiences enjoy watching extended stories with familiar characters, and when the actors are as well liked as the ones in this film it’s a no-brainer. Don’t be surprised if a third installment is in the works – watch the credits roll. Hint, hint.
P.S. My late husband Owen worked alongside popular Jumanji star Dwayne Johnson and thought of him as an exceptionally intelligent athlete/performer with loads of talent, but more importantly as a very nice person as well. In short, Owen liked him a lot. I met Dwayne a few times – a true gentleman indeed. Dwayne was a good friend to Owen throughout and even though I never really had the opportunity to tell him, I truly appreciated it. A Parting Note: Friendship is valued by those who share it but also by those who witness it. Bless.