I know that when the news dropped a few years back that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was on the way to theaters, some folks were less than enthused. How could anything compete with the darkly creative original? But to the surprise of many, it did work. The new Jumanji was far sillier and modern than the original, and the video game conceit was extremely fun.
The rebooted version of the game and the franchise wasn’t just more light-hearted than the original, it was also … great? And, shockingly, last year’s sequel, Jumanji: The Next Level, which is out today on BluRay and is also now available on digital, is just as fun. It’s not only the action sequences and video game in-jokes that make these movies really good: it’s the acting.
For those of you that haven’t seen either of the films, the idea is simple: Jumanji is no longer a board game, it has evolved into a video game and the protagonists, played at the start by regular teens (or others, we’ll get to that) take on avatars that look like The Rock, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart and more.
What that means is that, for instance, The Rock gets to play an awkward nerd in Welcome to the Jungle. In honestly one of the best performances I have seen, Jack Black plays a 17-year-old Instagram-obsessed girl. In The Next Level, things get even better, as Black takes on Kevin Hart’s character from the last movie, meaning he’s playing a six-foot-tall black footballer, while Hart and the Rock get to play old men who don’t understand video games.
It is pure joy to watch The Rock play Danny Devito. Dwayne Johnson is not an actor who gets a lot of range in his roles, thanks to his physique and movie star persona, so it’s so obvious that he’s having a blast in these movies while he gets to play completely against type thanks to their conceit. Johnson is a great actor who doesn’t get to show his range often enough, which makes these movies such a treat.
But it’s not just Johnson. I know Kevin Hart is also great. In The Next Level, he’s playing a rambling old guy, portrayed first by Danny Glover, and it’s another instance of this franchise allowing an actor to play against type and it works so well.
As I mentioned, Jack Black is perfect as a teen girl in Welcome to the Jungle and manages to also perfectly channel his new character in The Next Level. This could have gone badly, to be honest, having a black character in a white body, but Black’s performance is so good that it never strays into parody and remains true to everything we know about this character. The same is even true when he (spoiler) briefly switches with Martha, who takes on Karen Gillan’s form for most of the movies. Black is simply amazing in these roles!
The women don’t have quite as much fun, but they do get to play as well. Karen Gillan is great at “dance fighting” and in The Next Level Awkwafina gets in on the game to play Spencer, the nerd who was in the Rock in the first movie. (Yes, I know this sounds confusing written out but it makes sense).
These are not deep movies, but they’re family action movies, they don’t need to be profound. If you’re stuck at home like most of us and especially if you have younger folks to entertain, these movies are a more than solid choice. They’re silly and fun and have some great action, but they also have awesome acting a surprising amount of heart. I ( and my kid) highly recommend them for your quarantine viewing.
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