With a third installment in the “Jumanji” franchise, “Jumanji: The Next Level,” has the same effect as when you’ve played a new game and had a blast of a time, then go back to it a few months later and play it again. Now only to find that now the clever elements have been experienced, the experience itself is fine rather than a fresh novelty. With 2017’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” it was one of the best video-game translated to film that’s come along so far. Now with the ground rules in place, and the audience familiar with the mechanics, the quality relies more directly on the story, and unfortunately that doesn’t reach the same high score as the last round.
The cast is back, led by Dwayne Johnson and supported by Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Nick Jonas. This time there’s some new entries into the mix with Awkwafina as another in-game character, but also with Danny Glover and Danny DeVito as Milo and Grandpa Eddie. Milo and Eddie get dragged into the game for a few story beats, but mostly for a new set of fish out of water individuals to stumble along behind the now-experienced pros.
The Milo and Eddie side story carries for a bit, but the bumbling and hard-of-hearing old person jokes get old by the time they’ve done a dozen or so. Plus it doesn’t entirely make sense why Eddie’s game character would be hard of hearing if the avatar bodies impart their own physical attributes.
The general story is that the group’s token socially awkward nerd, Spencer (played by Alex Wolff) has gone off to New York while girlfriend Martha (Morgan Turner) has gone off to college. Since Spencer isn’t Doctor Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), he quickly develops an inferiority complex fearing he’s not good enough for Martha, so when they come back together to home for a vacation, Spencer repairs the Jumanji game console and jumps back in. The friends realize what’s happened and they go in after him. Unfortunately the console decides to leave one prior player behind, and take Eddie and Milo along for the ride.
There’s a new bad guy doing bad things with yet another gemstone, so as Nigel Billingsley (played again by Rhys Darby) appears as the narrator/main NPC of the game hands them another map and delivers the requisite backstory they’re dropped off to save Jumanji once again. Watching Johnson and the crew clearly once again having a blast of a time making another film together is its own entertainment, and it never particularly drags, but it also doesn’t elicit the same laughs and “oh, that’s clever” moments as there was the first time. For a holiday season outing, it’s fine for the whole family, and thankfully doesn’t overstay its welcome.
“Jumanji: The Next Level” is rated PG-13 and runs 123 minutes. There is one mid-credits moment early on, so don’t run for the car too quickly.