The Previous Level

Daniyal Zahid finds the new Jumanji film sticking to what it knows best rather than breaking new ground

The Previous Level
It appears as though we discuss sequels and/or franchises almost every week! In fact, a quick look into the archives shows that all Hollywood movies covered in this space over the past three months have had some form of affiliation with one franchise or the other.

More than any bizarre obsession on our part, this actually unveils the brand of Hollywood films that are released in Pakistan. Commercialization, affiliated with the franchises churning out films to cash in on the brand name – old or new – something we discussed in detail last week, is often the reason the sequels are made in the first place, with the financial coefficient making those films lucrative for release in our part of the world as well.

We’re going to continue from where we left off previously, which is precisely what the film under the spotlight this week does as well. Even though Jumanji: The Next Level, the sequel to 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, does take the game rules forward to a new level, the overall quality of the film is largely a continuation of its prequel – which isn’t exactly a drawback.

In fact, given how succeeding films falter – as we’ve seen in this space in recent months – for a movie to actually keep up the previous level in a franchise deserves plaudits. And that’s the case with The Next Level, with the film bringing together everything that worked in Welcome to the Jungle, which itself was a reboot of 1995 classic adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg’s book from 1981.

Indeed, in such scenarios, keeping what was novel in 1981 sufficiently intriguing for audiences four decades later is often the challenge. But given that the now expanding franchise hit gold in 2017, The Next Level looks to offer more of the same – whether it’s the cast, writing, or the overall entertainment.

Martha, Bethany and Fridge retrace their identities, but Spencer – now in New York – still hasn’t. Following a breakup with Martha, Spencer goes back in the Jumanji game, and the perils it brings, now with his grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and friend Milo (Danny Glover) also there.

So, in addition to the four regular players, we now have the two oldies as well, with their inclusion being one of the highlights of the sequel.

Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan all return. The assigned avatars change, with body swapping in play and rules of the game taken to ‘the next level’.

But the film is pretty careful about ensuring that instead of making more happen in the same setting, it gives more dimensions to pretty much the same gameplay. That means that the pace is similar to what the now fans of the franchise are familiar with, as the screenplay offers similar strengths and weaknesses.

Among the latter is the predictability of how the game would pan out, given that the antagonist isn’t quite as challenging as one would hope for the sake of providing a more dramatic twist. What that means is that entertainment is extracted from the camaraderie and the character engagements more so than the unfolding of the storyline.

Of course, given that the story for Welcome to the Jungle would’ve already been known to a large chunk of those that watched it, the makers of the original – in this series – had to rely on something different to make the mark. However, not adding depth to the storyline, especially with a third part being lined up, might not exactly be long-term thinking.

Again, Jumanji: The Next Level offers much of what you got in the prequel. If that works for you, the sequel could be a fun watch. However, the franchise would have to up the game for the next part.