Sleeper hit: a term used in the entertainment industry for a film that plays successfully for a long period and becomes a big success, despite being a surprise to critics, audiences and industry analysts.
You could say that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is the very definition of a sleeper hit. The first trailers were underwhelming, showcasing some ropey CGI, body swap comedy tropes and a lack of respect for the Robin Williams 1995 classic. Yet, in spite of all this, the film ended up grossing nearly $1billion worldwide.
Why? Well the film was actually pretty good. Sure, it wasn’t spectacular but a combination of a witty script, brilliant self-awareness and a roster of characters that were so well written they made Jack Black actually likeable, meant it shot straight to the top of the box office.
A sequel was always going to be on the cards then and two years on we have the results. Jumanji: The Next Level is here and brings back with it that cast that helped propel its predecessor to global success. However, is this third instalment in the series a welcome trip back to the jungle or is it game over?
When Spencer (Alex Wolff) goes back into the fantastical world of Jumanji, pals Martha (Morgan Turner), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) re-enter the game to bring him home. But everything about Jumanji is about to change, as they soon discover more obstacles and more danger to overcome.
Of course, the actors mentioned above aren’t the reason the first film performed so well at the box office of course. With talent like The Rock, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black taking lead billing, it’s hard not to be impressed. The same is true in this instalment. The Next Level may bring back these characters but they’re not quite as you would expect, though most of that has been spoilt in the trailers.
When it comes to new cast members, Danny DeVito and Danny Glover add some class to proceedings, though they are only in the film briefly in their normal forms. Awkwafina joins the cast and Nick Jonas returns as seaplane pilot, Jefferson.
The plot isn’t dissimilar to what came before it as our band of heroes need to save Jumanji once again, but thankfully the set-pieces are brisk, well-placed and nicely choreographed. There’s much more of a video-game feel to this film than its predecessor and that’s more than welcome considering the much derision from fans who balked at the fact the beloved board game was given a contemporary upgrade in 2017.
From a special effects standpoint, this is a great looking film. Director Jake Kasdan, who also penned part of the screenplay rightly moves much of the action outside of the jungle, with snow-capped peaks, blistering deserts and claustrophobic towns all making an appearance. There’s still some dodgy CGI here and there, but it’s much better than Welcome to the Jungle.
Jumanji: The Next Level is that rare sequel that builds and betters its predecessor
But what really makes the film sing is the script. Kasdan and writing partners Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg have penned a screenplay that is surprisingly multi-faceted. Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson perfectly embody Danny DeVito and Danny Glover and with that comes absolute hilarity. Kevin Hart in particular steals the show with some cracking one-liners.
However, as the film progresses, there’s some nice emotional heart that looks at life-long friendships, new love and staying in touch with loved ones. It’s an area that the previous film didn’t really touch upon and it adds a pleasing extra layer to the film.
Unfortunately, as Jumanji: The Next Level steadily comes to its conclusion, things start to run out of steam a little. The video game rules that the film tries so hard to set up in the beginning are completely thrown out of the window, but this doesn’t fully detract from what is a stronger movie in nearly every conceivable area.
From a music point of view, Henry Jackman’s score is a little generic. In fact, it lacks any discernible features that make it stand out from the plethora of film scores that have littered the cinema over the last twelve months. That’s a bit of a shame too, as his work earlier in the year on Detective Pikachu perfectly encapsulated the intellectual property it was based on.
Nevertheless, Jumanji: The Next Level is that rare sequel that builds and betters its predecessor. With better special effects, a greater sense of scale and some impressive action sequences, it’s a question of when, not if, that next sequel will be released. After all, when the entire cast look like they’re having a blast, it’s hard not to get sucked into the world of Jumanji too.