Review – Welcome (back) to the Jungle… (“Jumanji: The Next Level”)

First we had 1995’s Jumanji, then the reboot in 2017 which, much to my surprise, was fresh, original, funny, and very entertaining. How many times has THAT ever happened? So, naturally, a sequel was ordered starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and all the rest. Can they make the magic happen again?
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Picking up from the kinda-sequel, we recall our plucky teenagers, nerdy gamer Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff), football jock Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain), shy Martha Kaplan (Morgan Turner) and social media diva, Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman). They all survived the lethal game of Jumanji, but Spencer had to go and tempt fate again, and screw with that evil game cartridge a second time after feeling inadequate as a human. Idiot! He and his friends gets sucked into the game again (except for Bethany), but are joined this time around by two newbies: Eddie (Danny DeVito), Spencer’s cranky old grandfather, and Milo Walker (Danny Glover), Eddie’s slow-moving senior friend. Hoo-boy!
 
Inside the world of Jumanji, there’s a twist this time! Besides all-new levels and dangers, the avatars/players have been switched-up. Eddie is now the bulked-up and super-strong Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge becomes map reader Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black), Martha stays Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and Milo is now the short backpacking zoologist, Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart). Game master guide Nigel (Rhys Darby) pops-up again with new instructions… this time around the gamers must locate Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann) who has stolen a precious jewel. Recover the jewel and game over! But, of course, it’s NOT gonna be that easy!
 
But unlike the last film, the group must also find their lost friend, Spencer, AND navigate each ‘level’ of difficulty (dunes, marketplace, impenetrable fortress, etc,) to find that jewel and face killer birds, rocks, monkeys and, sometimes, even themselves. There’s even a pool of green glowing water that can make them switch avatars; another new change of pace. Through their adventures, Eddie and Milo constantly bicker, which is funnier hearing the Rock spout his dialogue like an old Jewish curmudgeon, and Hart rasping his voice like an old man. They finally find Spencer, but he’s now Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwfina), a Chinese thief!
 
Meanwhile Bethany, in the real world, goes to Alex Vreeke (Colin Hanks) for help, who was stuck in Jumanji for 20 years as Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough (Nick Jonas). Can they get back into the game world to help their friends in time? Surprisingly, this movie does not suffer from “sequelitis”; thanks largely to the fact that the same team from the last film came back. Screenwriters Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and director Jake Kasdan struck gold again with another winning script that captures the same level of excitement, humor, and wild adventure their 2017 movie had. True, it follows the same basic plot arc, but that’s what the movie’s about; it’s a video game that must be played to be won.
 
The real joy and fun is seeing the switcheroo in characters this time around. Having Johnson and Hart be the “clueless senior fighting couple” was genius. They’re hilarious! Also fresh is beefing up the role of Gillan, who takes point as the leader this go around and really shines. Jack Black is always a treat, but watch out for versatile Awkwafina who, besides looking just like Mulan, switches characters in Act three and is a riot. The movie, about 2hrs, is a little long at times, but it’s filled with lotsa unexpected shocks and shenanigans that you don’t see coming. Yes, you can see many of it is padding and filler that the writers threw in, but it’s all fun stuff that you can enjoy.
 

Jake Kasdan once again directs this movie and, like his dad Lawrence Kasdan (Silverado), has a no-holds-barred attitude and playful feel for the camera. And the actors are just as much at home here as well; looking like they are having the time of their lives. Another important aspect are the teenagers, now grown up from the 2017 movie. In the last film they didn’t register as much, but this time around they’re more relaxed and easy-going. Look for a nice cameo from Bebe Neuwirth from the original 1995 Jumanji, playing the same character!                     

Tron: Legacy (2010)

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Once you’ve gone into a video game and come out the other side relativity unscathed, the only natural course of action is to GO back in again, right? In this highly-anticipated sequel to the 1982 block-buster movie, Tron, Disney attempted to capture lightning in a bottle twice using more CGI and a more convoluted plot.

Remember Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges)? After he was made CEO of ENCOM (that nasty computer company that stole all his ideas), he disappeared again, but we all know he where he went… back into the computer world. Some 20 years later, Kevin’s rebellious son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) is asked by Alan Bradey (Bruce Boxleitner from the first movie) to investigate a strange message coming from papa Flynn’s old closed-up arcade store. Once inside, Sam discovers a hidden room where, much to his surprise, he is digitally zapped and downloaded into ENCOM’s mainframe, just like his dad was.

Now in the computer world, Sam is quickly captured and sent to “the Games,” where he is forced to fight. When Sam is injured and bleeds (only “Users” bleed), he is taken before Clu (Bridges, but CGI de-aged), the Grid’s corrupt ruling program, who resembles a young Kevin Flynn. Clu throws Sam into the Light Cycle game arena to kill him, but Sam is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde), an apprentice of Kevin Flynn, and whisks him away to his father’s hideout outside Clu’s territory. Dad meets son and tells him that all about the how’s & why’s he got trapped there, and the only way out is to get Kevin’s identity disc (that Frisbee looking thingy they all have) to a portal key that opens to both worlds. And no, that’s not gonna be easy.

First Sam & Quorra try to get safe passage from Zuse (Michael Sheen), a flamboyant and dishonest nightclub operator, but Clu and his minions attack and from there it’s a race to see who can get to the portal first before getting killed, or in this case, ‘derezzed’. There was no doubt about it, after decades of technology, Disney showed us what they could do with all new cutting-edge graphics and CGI trickery, but they forgot about one minor detail. The story. The screenplay by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz (the team that brought us TV’s Once Upon A Time) failed to wow us in the storytelling dept. The simple “I found my dad and now we have to escape” trope was lame and old, coupled with a standard fight/chase/escape/fight again/repeat scenario.

I’m guessing all the razzle-dazzle CGI effects would count as something to take your mind off the sub-standard and boring plot and, for the most part, and they were right. Seeing the all-new Light Cycles, Solar Sailers, Recognizers, and other 1982 effects beefed-up and made so wickedly cool looking was a delight, but there’s just so much of that you can take. The one thing they hiccuped on was the early CGI de-aging process for Jeff Bridges’ CLU, which was eerie looking and no where near what it is today. Have you seen Gemini Man or The Irishman? THAT’S impressive!

Joseph Kosinski made his directorial debut here. In the ‘real world’, the direction is bland and stilted, but in the world of Tron, it gets up and moves, as well as it should. Another problem is in the casting. Hedlund, although rugged and super-model nice to look at, is lifeless. Jeff Bridges, as his old man, has more energy! Wilde is cute & perky and steals the show from Hedlund, and Sheen (for the little amount he’s shown) is the best thing about the movie. I’d rather see a film about him and his crazy cabaret!

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