‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ movie revived

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“Jumanji” is officially a franchise now, with a new sequel that is just as much fun, if not more so, than the previous film.

Reviving the “Jumanji” movie decades later with a new cast and a new concept was a bold move to begin with, but now two winning sequels have proven the studio knew what they were doing. Having charming actors like Dwayne Johnson and Jack Black in lead roles always helps.

“Jumanji: The Next Level” is as much of a thrill ride as 2017’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”, and both films might be better than the 1995 original.

Set a couple years after the last film, the nerdy Spencer is having a tough time at college in New York City, and he’s insecure about his long distance relationship with girlfriend Martha. So Spencer decides to give himself a boost of confidence by once again embodying the heroic Dr. Bravestone in the Jumanji video game over winter break.

When his friends find out what he’s done, Martha, Fridge and Bethany jump back into the game to save him, but this time Spencer’s grandfather Eddie, and Eddie’s old friend Milo are dragged along for the ride.

The gimmick of the new Jumanji movies is that these insecure college students are transformed into video game characters once they’re sucked into the jungles of Jumanji, with popular actors like Johnson and Black playing the teens. And two movies in, the whole concept has not gotten old. Johnson, Black, Kiran Gillan and Kevin Hart were hilarious in the 2017 Jumanji, and they’re just as funny — if not more so — in the new film.

“Jumanji: The Next Level” is smart enough to shake things up this time around by mixing up the character pairings. In the previous film, Jack Black played the ditzy Bethany, but now he’s playing the jock Fridge, and he’s chameleon-like in his ability to find the laughs in whatever form he can. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson also has a lot of fun playing the video game version of Grandpa Eddie, who is normally played by Danny DeVito in the real world.

The Rock as an old, curmudgeonly Danny DeVito is consistently hilarious.

Beyond these fun character mix-up gimmicks, “Jumanji: The Next Level” is also a solid and entertaining jungle adventure movie. And putting fun characters through an awesome adventure is the very heart of good storytelling.

“Jumanji: The Next Level” seizes upon the surprise success of the previous film and runs with it, bringing more laughs and more adventure in all the best ways.

For a deeper review and more movie discussion listen to the Sentinel Cinema podcast at www.romesentinel.com/sentinecinema.

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