In Jumanji: The Next Level, Dwayne Johnson wins the comedy game

Review: Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart are joined by Danny DeVito in this game-changingly entertaining romp.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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This month, a long-lived fantasy movie franchise returns for its latest family-friendly installment with high hopes of another box office smash. No, I'm not talking about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. I'm talking about Jumanji: The Next Level.

The second movie in the rebooted Jumanji series once again unites the winning lineup of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black. And like the first movie, it's a whole jungle full of fun.

Jumanji began as a magical board game in the much loved '90s kids film with Robin Williams, before it was rebooted as a games console in 2017's surprise smash Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. A bunch of kids are sucked into the game, where they inhabit the bodies of Johnson and Co., and the sequel follows the same pattern. But this time elder statesmen Danny DeVito and Danny Glover are also zapped into the video game with them. That means we get to see Johnson and Hart acting like old men who find themselves in brand new young bodies, and both are hilarious as they bust out their best old man voices among the visual effects chaos.


Snow joke: The Next Level takes us out of the jungle and into new environs within Jumanji.


The plot is entirely secondary to the shenanigans that result from the characters swapping bodies and comically struggling to stay focused on their mission. Johnson and Hart are a hoot as the two old geezers flung into an exotic video game world with video game rules they don't understand. Johnson is clearly having a great time replicating DeVito's raspy grumbling and befuddled squint, while the running gag about how slowly Glover's character speaks remains priceless throughout.

Animal-based action scenes take the characters out of the jungle and into new environments in a story that sometimes lacks the forward motion of the previous film. But the character's video game-style countdown of spare lives adds genuine peril to proceedings, and the action is satisfyingly intense -- a set piece involving fearsome monkeys swarming across a series of rope bridges will no doubt scar some younger children in the best possible way.


Karen Gillan is a little crowded out by the new characters, but at least she gets some pants.


With Johnson and Hart grandstanding and a bunch of new characters taking up space, Black and Gillan feel sidelined in the comedy stakes. Still, the missteps are pretty minor. After the outcry over Gillan's scanty costume, her character finally puts some clothes on -- although it takes half the movie to get there. And it feels a bit uncomfortable to see white actors mimicking the accent of a black actor.

The previous movie became Sony's biggest ever hit outside of the Spider-Man movies, despite the fact that it premiered at the same time as Star Wars blockbuster The Last Jedi in 2017. This month, The Next Level also faces off against Star Wars as it opens just before Rise of Skywalker's release date of Dec. 20. The Next Level is every bit as much fun as the earlier Jumanji film, but the odds aren't exactly in its favor: aside from the Star Wars juggernaut, it's been a catastrophic year for long-lived franchises like X-MenTerminator: Dark Fate and Charlie's Angels.

Still, co-writer and director Jake Kasdan says he isn't too concerned about the box office challenges, and he's done his bit by delivering a movie that deserves to be a hit. 

Like its predecessors, Jumanji: The Next Level is a breezy, funny and enormously charming adventure romp. It might not be on the same level as Star Wars, but Jumanji has turned out to be a fantasy movie series that plays the game better than the rest.

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Originally published Dec. 10.