Two years after the box office success of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, arrived in theaters last December 25th Jumanji: The Next Level. Was it up to the first film or was it a full flop? Will he have some surprises in store for us? Let's find out together.

SPOILER ALERT: the article will contain some spoiler on the plot and will be full of references to the previous chapter, which you can find on Netflix. If you haven't seen it yet, you can safely continue with the reading because - let's be honest - it is certainly not the script that attracted the spectators in the room!

THE WORLD OF JUMANJI

To talk about this new generation of movies on Jumanji one cannot help but mention the original film from 1995, which has now become a classic thanks to the splendid interpretation of the late Robin Williams. What not everyone knows is that, ten years after the first chapter was released, a sort of spiritual sequel entitled was made Zathura: A Space adventure, directed by Jon Favreau, whose protagonists were involved in a science fiction version of the dangerous board game. Both films are inspired by the novels of the same name Chris Van Allsburg.

In 2017, when the news of a sequel to the film was released, many turned up their noses in seeing that it was basically the transposition of the first Jumanji in a videogame key. The canned game, in fact, is found on a beach and turns into a videogame cartridge, trapping inside a boy who started a game. Twenty years later, four high school students end up in punishment: the popular and frivolous Bethany Walker (Madison iseman) for making a video call to a friend during a lesson; the shy and studious Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner) for refusing to do physical education and insulting the teacher; listless football player Anthony "Fridge" Johnson (Ser'Darius Blain) and the fearful Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), his former best friend, for having passed a task. The principal requires them to empty the basement of the school from all the junk accumulated over the years and this is where they come across the video game and end up sucked into the world of Jumanji, from which they will emerge unscathed ... but not before having recovered Alex (Colin Hanks), the boy stuck in the jungle since 1996. Later, they destroy the game by using a bowling ball to ward off the risk of having to repeat the experience.

What makes the film interesting is the fact that, contrary to what happened with the board game, the protagonists enter the game here in the form of avatars. By coincidence, the characters chosen by the four boys have diametrically opposite characteristics compared to those of the players: Bethany is in the very athletic body of prof. Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon (Jack Black), the muscular Fridge has to be reduced to that of the zoologist Franklin "Mouse" Finbar (Kevin Hart), the frail Spencer becomes the charming dr. Xander "Smolder" Bravestone (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) and dodging Martha becomes Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a sort of Lara Croft with flowing red hair. 

Despite initial concerns, the film proved an unprecedented success in the history of Sony Pictures, establishing the blockbuster record at the box office in the United States. But let's get to now The Next Level and see if it lived up to the success of the previous chapter.

Left to right: Fridge, Spencer, Martha and Bethany.

PLOT

Three years have passed since we left Spencer, Fridge, Martha and Bethany, still shaken by their adventure in the jungle but, if nothing else, united by the kind of friendship that is created when sharing an experience so out of the ordinary. The four boys have finished high school and moved on with their lives, staying in touch via a group chat, and take advantage of the Christmas holidays to organize a repatriate.

When Spencer does not come to the meeting, however, the three friends worry and come to his door to ask for explanations. Here they find grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) engaged in a grudging discussion with Milo Walker (Danny Glover), old friend and former business partner. It turns out that Spencer, taken by the discomfort of a disappointing New York life and by the insecurity that led him to pause the relationship with Martha, attempted to repair the videogame of Jumanji and started a game.

At this point the companions of (dis) adventures can do nothing but play to bring him back to safety; but something goes wrong and the game does not allow them to choose avatars, catapulting them directly in-game. We find the four avatars of Welcome To The Jungle, with some "very small" changes: while Martha returns to play the role of the charming Ruby Roundhouse, Fridge finds himself in the body of Professor Oberon and Bethany ... Well, Bethany is simply not there. We still see her there, lost in the basement of the Gilpin house, while her friends have been sucked in by the console.

So who is playing with the avatars of the muscular dott. Bravestone and the knowledgeable zoologist Finbar? Respectively, we find Spencer's grandfather and friend Milo, who have clearly never taken a video game in hand and have no idea what happened to them. And it is here that everything takes a really interesting turn, opening up several food for thought which we will discuss shortly.

But what happened to Spencer? We will meet him later than the burglar Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina), as we will find Alex as Jefferson "Seaplane" McDonough (Nick Jonas) and Bethany who, having finished the available avatars, can only enter the game as Cyclone, a horse with a black coat.

Will this bizarre group manage to finish the game before finishing the three lives available?

DEFECTS

In general, the film is less fun than the previous chapter, despite the obvious attempt to find different narrative devices. Certain jokes, just think even of Fridge's ("At least you are still black!"), Perhaps have more grip on the American public and are less heard here. The irony remains small but it is exactly what is expected when you enter the room, with many repetitions of the typical NPCs (Non-Player Characters) dialogues, so they don't go too far to jeopardize the final results.

Against all expectations, however, we see that what we would expect to be a backbone of the story is shaking: Dwayne Johnson. If it can be interesting to see the actors tested by having to play different players than Welcome to the Jungle, it is also true that The Rock is definitely in difficulty in playing the role of Danny DeVito: having to get out of one's character macho and dark, it really gives the sensation of trudging and remaining subdued. When, finally, he manages to take our hand a little, he finds himself being controlled again by Spencer and we find Dr. Bravestone that we had left in the jungle.

Like every blockbusterof course, at least a couple of plot holes could not be missing.
We find that, due to the malfunction of the game, there are pools of electrified water that allows you to switchare avatar with another player. This we see well in a scene in which Martha and Fridge exchange characters, and then return to previous ones, through the contact between their hands. But then how is it possible that they all jump into the river and come out with the avatar they so longed for? It would have been interesting to force them to at least a couple of "wrong" exchanges before finding the right combination.
Another question to ask is: how many playable characters are there? If you see six of them in total (the horse doesn't count) but in the first film you can clearly see that there are only five avatars to choose from.

The choice of characters in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, where the number of avatars available is visible.

ADVANTAGES

Without a doubt, the merits of the technical sector must be recognized: writing, shooting and editing a film of these proportions in just a couple of years is a remarkable undertaking. If we consider the massive use of CGI, which is more than good, we realize how tight the production of this film has been. It would have been easy to create a visually mediocre product, especially as regards the pursuit with baboons, but all in all it is enjoyable.

The direction and photography are doing well, also thanks to the breathtaking landscapes that are the background of the events: the shooting took place between Atlanta, New Mexico, Calgary, Hawaii and Fortress Mountain, a resort in the Alberta region (Canada) where some scenes of Inception e The Revenant.

If the performance of Dwayne Johnson did not shine for solidity, the same cannot be said for the couple formed by Kevin Hart and Jack Black: the two actors took more space and fell perfectly in their new players, proving credible and fun. This also applies to the two Danny, DeVito and Glover, who help to give a more adult cut to the issues addressed.
In general it is clear that the actors had fun getting out of their character and the script gave them ideas to test themselves.

Surely to appreciate also the attempt to give a more mature reading of the relational dynamics between the characters, both in the world of Jumanji that off-game. On the one hand we find Spencer, devoured alive by insecurities while watching the seemingly perfect life that his friends (and his girlfriend) share on social media. On the other we find Milo and Eddie who, amidst ancient grudges and ailments of age, find in the game the possibility of recovering all the experiences and skills that old age has denied them.

Spoiler su Milo
In this regard, the moment when Milo chooses not to return to the real world is moving (albeit very predictable), in fact remaining forever a horse and escaping his destiny. If you want to give an allegorical interpretation of the scene, you can see in the black winged horse a reference to death (as for i thestrals di Harry Potter) but also to the myth of Pegasus and Bellerophon, in which the knight is thrown off because of his pride while trying to reach Mount Olympus. On the contrary, when Milo discovers he has a terminal illness, he manages to show humility and returns to his old friend to make up for him.

QUEER READING

Among the various interpretative keys given to Jumanji: The Next Level, there is also a reading queer which concerns the gender of the characters, when they exchange avatars. What we know with relative certainty is that this subtext was completely unintentional: given the success of the previous chapter in China and the inclusion in the cast of Awkwafina (recently became the first woman of Asian descent to have won a Golden Globe for best actress ), it is really hard to think that Sony could have risked censorship in such a profitable market.

However, it remains possible to appreciate how the protagonists do not care much about the gender of their avatar (except for a joke on the beard and one on having a breast to touch), focusing much more on the characteristics of their own PG (Player Character). Spencer's problem, for example, is not that he ended up in a woman avatar, but that of being thin and full of allergies exactly like in real life. It was precisely the desire to feel strong and invincible again (remember that Dr. Bravestone has no weak points in the first film) that pushed the young Gilpin to try to repair the game.

In conclusion, it must be reiterated that these are all machinations from subreddiyou that nothing has actually been confirmed (or wanted, as far as they know) by the production. Certainly we cannot say that we slip into queerbaiting, in this case, because it is an interpretation so nuanced as to have escaped the rigid Chinese censorship.

What is certain, however, is that in video games (as well as in role-playing games) your genre does not matter because you can choose to be anything you want. It would be nice if the same opportunities were given not only to the players but also to those who work in the playful world (contrary to what happened for the sexism issue at Riot Games, which we have dealt with Thu).

CONCLUSIONS AND SEQUEL

Overall, the film is enjoyable, albeit far from being a masterpiece, and tears more than a couple of laughs. All in all, a sigh of relief is the awareness that this new generation of Jumanji has come to an end. But is it really so?

In a scene halfway through the closing credits, ostriches are seen rushing out of the bar where the four protagonists are finally catching up on the famous brunch they had organized. In fact, Spencer's mother accompanied the boiler technician to the basement and he could not help but put his hand to the vintage game found on the table. It seems that there is a return to the origins, with the animals pouring into the real world as in the adventure of 1995; it remains only to be hoped that the writers have some good ideas in store.

Finally, to all this, we also add what Dwayne Johnson himself wrote on Instagram: in the caption of the photo taken with Rory McCann (known for playing the Mastiff in Game of Thrones), the actor reveals that one of the antagonists, Jurgan The Brute, is an available avatar. He also points out that we will have to wait for the sequel to understand who is playing it, confirming the existence of a third chapter of which perhaps the need was not felt.