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Non-Review Review: Jumanji – The Next Level

Jumanji: The Next Level is a deeply weird and uneven film, but one that works much better than it really should.

To be fair, a lot of the more serious problems with The Next Level are the problems that face many blockbuster sequels. The film scales upwards from its predecessor, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Given than Welcome to the Jungle was already somewhat overstuffed, The Next Level is bursting at the seams. Not only does the film bring back the entire primary cast from the previous film and bulk up the material for characters in supporting roles, it also adds at least three new major actors to the cast and attempts to maintain the same setpiece-driven pacing that kept Welcome to the Jungle moving.

Game on.

However, this doesn’t capture just how weird The Next Level allows itself to become. The film’s final act features one of the most bizarre emotional pivots in recent memory – a plot resolution that includes a terminal cancer diagnosis, a flying horse and Awkwafina doing her best impression of Danny DeVito. This isn’t even the primary plot. This is the pay-off to a secondary storyline that has, by this point in the narrative, been pushed into the background. None of this should work. Truth be told, it doesn’t really work. However, it is strangely committed. The Next Level never wavers as its plot leads to these strange places.

Like Welcome to the Jungle before it, The Next Level benefits from a propulsive approach to storytelling. To dwell on any of its plot points or character beats or emotional pay-offs would invite madness, and so the film never really does. The Next Level never settles down long enough to let the audience really appreciate how surreal or unusual its framing of these conventional tropes actually is, because there’s always something more to see or to do. The result is a messy and convoluted piece of blockbuster cinema that openly frays at the edges (and throughout), while holding together better than it should.

Solid as The Rock.

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Non-Review Review: Jumanji – Welcome to the Jungle

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a weird and interesting experiment, in part because it is a nostalgic and belated sequel that remains caught between its past and the present.

Welcome to the Jungle joins a long (and perhaps undistinguished) line of twenty-first century franchise revivals for beloved nineties properties. The original Jumanji was a hardly a breakout hit, even if it did make an impression on a younger generation who would have grown up on it as part of Robin Williams’ nineties family-friendly oeuvre along with Hook or Ms. Doubtfire. Indeed, Jumanji is arguably the nineties Robin Williams film most perfectly suited to a revival like this, in that it involves a premise that can be divorced from its iconic and beloved star.

Franchises find a way.

At the same time, Jumanji is undoubtedly near the bottom of nineties adventure films in need of a revival, lurking in the shadow of other resurrected blockbusters like Independence Day or Jurassic Park. Perhaps because of this distance, and perhaps because of the lack of a true cult iconography, Jumanji serves as an interesting control case. This is a film with one leg in the present, aimed at what modern families expect from blockbuster entertainment. The other leg it planted firmly in the past, harking back to certain aspects of formula that seem almost quaint.

Welcome to the Jungle is not a particularly good film, but it is an interesting one. It serves as a prism through which certain aspects of nostalgia might be deconstructed and explored.

Players.

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