Movies you watch at a young age generally hold a special place in your heart. Especially the ones you truly treasured and have therefore seen dozens of times. Jumanji (1995) was one of those magical films for me. I fondly remember being enthralled by its playful and adventurous nature but mostly captivated by the mysterious and at times horrific supernatural elements.
Needless to say, when a trailer for Jumanji: Welcome to the jungle (2017) dropped, I wasn’t particularly expecting much and felt more annoyed than anything else about one of my beloved childhood films being vulgarly besmudged. Or so it seemed. For – while admittedly not being a grand piece of cinema – it certainly managed to win me over with its radically different tonal approach and undeniable chemistry among the cast. Given my highly sceptic starting point Jumanji: Welcome to the jungle turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the year. It was charming and fresh but above all it gloriously revelled in self-awareness of its own stupidity. I absolutely loved it and have watched it several times since.
Its follow-up Jumanji: The Next Level did not achieve a similar effect. Remarkably, I didn’t enjoy myself quite as much with this one. I say remarkably because both movies are in essence very alike. A convenient pretext emerges for the gang to once again embark upon a grand adventure allowing for comparable action to occur and similar gags to ensue. The cast is mostly the same (with some welcome additions) and it’s all quite familiar and comfortable. In typical sequel fashion, you get more of the same, but everything is somewhat amped up.
Nevertheless, I spent most of the movie sighing and rolling my eyes and I think this was mainly due to the lacklustre script. I’m not saying that the first iteration had jaw-droppingly good writing or anything but at the very least the dialogue came across as genuine and was spontaneous enough to pull me into the story and into these characters’ lives. In my opinion, the script for this sequel felt like a first draft, full of obvious exposition and predictable clichés which kept me from getting immersed whatsoever. In an equally distracting way, I was annoyed with how hard they were pushing for the audience to care about the new major emotional arch, namely the relationship between the two Danny’s with several scenes spent developing that storyline and – while it did generate some of the stronger moments of the movie – ultimately, I had a hard time buying it all. Overall the acting was on point – with Kevin Hart and Awkwafina standing out in particular – but the mediocre lines everyone was handed simply did not make for any memorable performances.
What probably bothered me the most, though, is the lamentable lack of confidence in the audience’s attention span and general intelligence. Obviously, I’m aware that this type of production caters to younger moviegoers but, come on people… Ostentatiously showing the body swap mechanics three times in full followed by the expression on the characters’ faces to make sure the audience understands what’s happening and how they’re supposed to be feeling truly wasn’t necessary. One subtle shot the first time it occurs largely suffices. Even more insufferable were the countless close-up shots of the remaining lifelines on the wrist each and every time a character dies accompanied yet again by said character’s surprised and fearful gaze. This exact same mechanic was even explained in the previous movie. We get it. Move along.
This is all highly nit-picky of course. In fact, I’ve no doubt plenty of people will not mind any of the silly points I’ve made and will see this movie and have a thoroughly good time. Perhaps in a few years I’ll watch it with my kids and won’t be that bothered by all of it, myself. Perhaps I was just having an off day and felt like scornfully jabbing it some defenceless thing. Perhaps I should have just simply kept my expectations in check because when all is said and done this movie was fun and enjoyable when not utterly lacking in subtlety.