Life for Spencer (Alex Wolff) has not quite gone to plan since he moved to New York City for college, in fact as Christmas rolls around again he is thoroughly miserable. He hasn't kept in touch with the three friends he made in school, the ones he shared an adventure with when they were transported into a magical console game called Jumanji, a game they managed to beat after some exertions. The way this was supposed to go would be that Spencer and Martha (Morgan Turner) should have lived happily ever after, and Bethany (Madison Iseman) and Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain) would have been pals forever, but nothing has worked out. So how about Spencer take drastic action and go back?
The thing about both Jumanji sequels (if you don't count Zathura: A Space Adventure as one, which some do) was that they operated on two different story levels, with the actual game being one, goals and prizes and bosses and avatars and all, while the psychological elements the characters were going through were on a higher level. These would be brought out in the jokes, in the moments of sentimentality, and in the various achievements the game featured, so that it was all more complicated than the simple premise, folks play a real life computer game, would have indicated. The formula succeeded to such a degree that many were surprised how good it was.
How about The Next Level? Rare in a second follow-up, the same thing happened again, and in the week before Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker opened, audience flocked to this in anticipation of the festive season bringing the family entertainment they craved, encouraged by good reviews and word of mouth. As Joe Bob Briggs says, if you are making a sequel the best thing to do is make exactly the same movie again, and that was more or less what they did, with the added bonus of Danny DeVito and Danny Glover in the first act, who the avatars - Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart - would play in the game, offering the curious sight of The Rock doing a Danny DeVito impersonation - novelty!
The other avatars were, initially, Jack Black who was now Fridge, and Karen Gillan who was Martha, so it was not identical. Interestingly in the climate of cultural appropriation as a big no-no for the world of entertainment, here was a movie where Jack Black was playing an African American, among other adopted incarnations for the other characters, and it was perfectly acceptable, indeed it was part of the project's best joke and most innovative plotting. Spencer had disappeared into the newly-reconstructed Jumanji game, and Martha and Fridge followed, along with DeVito as his grandfather and Glover as his estranged business partner who had suddenly turned up that day to make amends for some mysterious motive. Like all the other conflicts, this was resolved in what looked like schmaltz from some angles.
Mind you, go check out the ending of the Robin Williams-starring original and that ends up pretty gooey as far as the emotions went, so it was in keeping with the source; must be that festive spirit that bookended the storyline. As for the gaming, there was a lot of invention on display, with the mandrill attack on the rope bridges in particular a highlight of the action sequences. That it was all CGI was perfectly excusable since the characters were in a game, so this could have made for an animated movie like something out of Pixar and it would not have suffered to any great detriment. But really it was the chemistry between the cast that sold this and its easily resolved crises (as easy as getting to the end of a game, that was), for as before the central quartet worked exceedingly well together, sharing the quips with aplomb. To no enormous shock, given how much profit these made, the ending was left open for a further sequel, and there seemed to be an appetite for it, as well. Music by Henry Jackman.