Grade: B-
Rated PG-13
Fantasy Action-Adventure

Before I offer my family’s take on Jumanji: The Next Level, I’d like to point out that the Internet Movie Database readers thought it was almost as good as Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (6.8 vs. 6.9/10) and 87 percent of the audience at Rotten Tomatoes rated them dead even.

Our family’s reaction came closer to the Tomatometer Critics, who gave it a 71 percent “fresh” rating compared to the 76 percent rating they had given Welcome to the Jungle. We didn’t think it was as good.

Welcome to the Jungle effectively used the Breakfast Club formula of grouping different teen personalities together so that we knew, by the time they entered the game, what they were afraid of, what they most wanted, and how they acted normally, so we could appreciate their every movement as an avatar within the game that had sucked them inside. The writing was crisp and it all made sense.

This time, though, the beginning is slow and which characters are which avatars is a bit muddled. When we watch Spencer (Alex Wolff) drag through some pre-game scenes that are supposed to explain why he goes back into the game, those scenes seem unnecessary because they don’t really offer much in the way of an explanation. They just slow the narrative. Same with the introduction of Spencer’s Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his estranged business partner Milo (Danny Glover). The camera time they get feels wasted, given DeVito’s and Glover’s talents. You find yourself thinking, “Come on, get on with it.”

And there simply aren’t as many clever lines this time around. For that, I blame whoever was unable to convince Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers to return to the writing team. Those guys brought the kind of clever writing that they had contributed to Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Lego Batman Movie, and their absence in The Next Level is noticeable. Maybe that’s why this batch of writers felt compelled to throw in confusing and unnecessary double switches within the game.

Those are our chief complaints, but if you enjoyed Welcome to the Jungle you’ll still enjoy The Next Level. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan return as engaging avatar characters, but this time Awkwafina as Ming is hilarious to watch as she apes DeVito’s speech patterns and mannerisms, while Hart is equally funny aping Glover. Then there’s the matter of the visuals: The action is comparable, the video-game plot tasks are next-level same but different, and the visual effects are just as accomplished. Rory McCann, who played The Hound in Game of Thrones, makes for a menacing villain this time around—and probably gets the biggest head-snapping shocker in the film when he calls attention to the fact that he’s feeding animals pieces of human flesh. I know, I know. It’s a video game. But in a video game where characters have three lives and they’re dead and gone after that? It just stood out for our family because the brutality of the jump-scare deaths in the movie are blunted by the fact that it’s played for laughs and hey, they still have a life or two left. But that human flesh diner special? You might have to talk to the little ones about that, or just get by with a well-timed “Ewwww.”

They’re already setting up a third installment in this film franchise, but it might be awhile. Johnson is more than a little busy, with a TV series, a Doc Savage film, a sequel (San Andreas 2), a remake (Big Trouble in Little China), a Shazam! spin-off, and a historical drama (The King, as in King Kamehameha) in his queue.

If you don’t already have the first film, you might want to buy the two-movie collection that’s being released at the same time, or if you’re into 4K there’s that release as well.

Entire family: No (little ones might be scarred)
Run time: 123 min., Color
Studio/Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital
Best Buy link

Rated PG-13 for “adventure action, suggestive content and some language”

Language: 5/10—More swearwords than in Welcome to the Jungle yet pretty average for PG-13 films, with no f-bombs but some rather emphatic lesser swearwords

Sex: 2/10—When a man switches into a woman’s body he gloats about touching her/his “boobs” and “balls” are also referenced in another scene

Violence: 6/10—The deaths are played for laughs, but there are some genuinely scary moments of peril, including two separate attacks by large masses of animals

Adult situations: 3/10—Nothing additional, really

Takeaway: The sequel doesn’t have quite the crackling energy of the first, but it’s still entertaining