The follow-up, Jumanji: The Next Level, puts the same team back in the game. Once again, they are whisked through a hole in reality and deposited in the perilous world of the video game they used to play, but they’ve changed from being risible teens ripe for mockery. Maturity has mellowed them and they have acquired a wised-up attitude to the dangers that await them, so the old jokes don’t apply.
Spencer (Alex Wolff), the nerd, however, hasn’t quite shaken off his old insecurities, which is why they have all decided to plunge into harm’s way once more. Feeling miserable, he is overwhelmed by a sudden desire to re-visit his avatar, Dr Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), and feel all-powerful again. And because they fear for his safety, his friends Martha (Morgan Turner), Fridge (Ser’darius Blain) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) feel compelled to go after him.
In a bid to rev up the plot, Spencer’s creaky old grandfather, Eddie (Danny DeVito), and his former friend Milo (Danny Glover) are bundled in with them. Worse, Eddie somehow winds up as Dr Bravestone, exulting in his new muscles and smoothly oiled joints, while Spencer finds himself transformed into Ming, a diminutive Asian cat burglar and martial arts expert played by the comic, Awkwafina.
Are these twists enough to sustain the joke? Yes and no. For a start, you don’t have much time to consider the question. The director, Jake Kasdan, is working on a bigger canvas this time, taking the story out of the jungle to explore Jumanji’s other geographic features. It’s an ambitious itinerary. We leap from jungle to desert to a wintry mountain fortress with Game of Thrones connotations, pursued by hordes of belligerent wildlife. But the number one villain is Rory McCann (Game of Thrones’ the Hound) as a tribal chieftain redundantly named Jurgen the Brutal.
This makes it a very hard-working film, so much so that it seems to be driven partly by an anxious desire to prove itself capable of matching its predecessor. Ignore this if you can, for it’s such a satisfyingly wild ride that its flaws can be forgiven.