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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Jumanji, The Next Level: Low level fare

Jumanji, The Next Level: Low level fare

Jumanji was first released in 1995, at a time when video games were the new fad. Since then, the franchise has had three forays into filmdom. The latest one is titled The Next Level, but, ironically, it is a slide down to a new low. Amateurish and even puerile, this movie is probably aimed at pre-teens, but since pre-teenagers cannot be expected to perform such adult acts as are depicted, and the story has already established several grown-ups, and only grown-ups, as the cast, there is a terrible mis-match.

Spencer Gilpin kept the pieces of the Jumanji video game, instead of destroying it (refer the 2017 film, Welcome to the Jungle) and, one day, repaired the system, in the basement of his grandfather's house. He was overcome with the desire to choose his avatar as Dr. Bravestone. When Spencer's friends Bethany, Fridge, and Martha arrive, they find Spencer missing, and the game running. It is obvious that Spencer has entered the Jumanji dimension, and his friends decide to re-enter Jumanji, to rescue him. Spencer's grandfather Eddie and his estranged friend Milo Walker, who is visiting Eddie after 15 years, hear the commotion, and inadvertently get sucked into the game too, before any of Spencer's friends, or Eddie and Milo, can select their avatars.

As they land in Jumanji, they are attacked by various species of birds, animals, a rhinoceros and a snake, including a large contingent of ostriches and mandrill monkeys. With their strengths, and with the help of sand buggies found lying in the desert, they manage to escape. Some of them keep dying, but since the video game gives them three chances, they are reborn almost immediately. A non-player character air-drops them to a location and informs them that Jumanji is in danger from Jurgen the Brutal, who has stolen the Fertility Stone, and caused drought and destruction. The teenagers, now in adult and even old-age avatars, must recover the stone and restore it to its rightful owner, in order to return to their original selves. Suddenly, Eddie and Milo join them, and later, Alex Vreese and Bethany arrive too. The teenaged friends must help Eddie and Milo get used to their in-game avatars, get them to help find Spencer, and escape Jumanji again, once and for all.

Three writers have developed the script, based on Chris Van Allsburg’s original book: Jake Kasdan (who is the director as well), Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spiderman 2, The Dark Tower, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Scott Rosenberg (Beautiful Girls, Con Air, High Fidelity, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle). One wonders where they were looking for inspiration: Real video games, friendly neighbourhood oldies, own/known teenaged children or pure imagination. Wherever they looked, they got it wrong this time. Apart from Kasdan, the other two writers were part of the quartet that penned the 2017 avatar, a real money-spinner, which is where they must have really looked for inspiration. When it came down to writing, they rehashed large parts of the plot, retaining an arch villain and the jewel, eliminating the corrupt archaeologist and replacing the rhinoceros and jaguar hordes with ostriches, mandrill monkeys and hyenas.

Video game or no video game, the survival of the pack against marauding ostriches and monkeys is beyond all suspension of disbelief. The writers and the director are simply asking for too much! First, believe that humans can enter a video game, then believe that they can take varying avatars, including sex changes and conversion into animals, then believe they have super strengths and super weaknesses, then believe that sand buggies in running conditions have been abandoned for their convenience to escape the ostriches, then believe that all of them can swing across a hundred wooden plank bridges and escape a few hundred killer mandrills, with only the itinerant 1/3rd loss of life (lives)…all of this is too much to swallow.

Out of the blue, some swearing and adult dialogue emerges in the second half, and recurs repeatedly (we had a small dose of this in 2017 too), necessitating beeping of the dialogue, to keep the film accessible to teenagers. When the dialogue is not overtly vulgar, it is covertly pedestrian and puerile. Actors seem to be mouthing their lines, without so much as a single thought to its context. One kissing scene, involving Dwayne Johnson (also a producer on the film), occurs 2 ½ times, and is contrived, to say the least. Every few minutes, somebody swipes the air to get a holographic display of each character’s strengths and weaknesses. All that said, the ostrich chase and the mandrill attack are very well shot and treated with special effects. It’s illogical, but crazy fun. That is the only plane on which the film works: crazy fun.

In the cast are:

Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) as Dr. Smolder Bravestone: Eddie's avatar (who was previously Spencer's).

Zachary Tzegaegbe as a younger Smolder Bravestone.

Danny DeVito as Eddie Gilpin: Spencer's cranky, but well-meaning grandfather, who has had hip surgery and who was forced into retirement 15 years ago, when his partner pulled out and retired himself.

Jack Black as Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon: Fridge's new avatar and later Bethany's; a palaeontologist, archaeologist, cartographer, and cryptographer.

Ser'Darius Blain as Anthony "Fridge" Johnson: A Brantford High School footballer, who cares more about football than studying. He and Spencer, who were childhood friends, were reconciled by the end of the previous film, after years of disassociation.

Kevin Hart as Franklin "Mouse" Finbar: Milo's avatar (who was previously Fridge's); a diminutive zoologist who speaks very slowly, linguist (he can converse with animals), and weapons specialist.

Danny Glover as Milo Walker, Eddie's eccentric friend, who pulled out of their restaurant business, Eddie and Milo’s, fifteen years ago, forcing its sale to Nora Shepherd

Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse: Martha's avatar; a commando with talents in martial arts who is now able to wield nunchucks.

Morgan Turner as Martha Kaply: A shy and cynical intellectual at Brantford High School. She and Spencer started a romantic relationship at the end of Welcome to the Jungle, but have grown apart since.

Nick Jonas as older Alex.

Awkwafina (rapper/actress Nora Lum) as Ming Fleetfoot: a new, Mongoloid-featured avatar who specialises in burglary, pickpocketing and lock-picking, while pollen is her weakness.

Alex Wolff as young Spencer Gilpin: A nerdy, asthmatic student at Brantford High School, who is Eddie's grandson (his daughter’s son).

Madison Iseman as Bethany Walker: A pretty, popular, egocentric teenage girl at Brantford High School, who ends up in the body of a black horse named Cyclone, which serves as her avatar.

Rhys Darby as Nigel Billingsley, the players' main, in-game, NPC (Non-Player Character) guide.

Rory McCann (The Hound in Game of Thrones) as Jurgen the Brutal: the new villain of Jumanji, a ruthless warlord who killed Smolder Bravestone's parents long ago, stole the Fertility Stone and wants to trade it to a brother duo of warlords to fore and alliance and conquer the world.

John Ross Bowie as Jurgen's spokesperson.

Dania Ramirez as an NPC seductress and Bravestone's ex-girlfriend.

Colin Hanks (son of Tom Hanks) young as Alex Vreeke: a married man with a daughter named Bethany, who, as a teenager, was trapped inside the Jumanji video game for 20 years, and was rescued by Bethany.

Lucy DeVito, daughter of Danny, also has a small part.

Bebe Neuwirth as Nora Shepherd, who now runs the restaurant under the name, Nora’s.

Marin Hinkle plays Spencer's mother.

Madison Johnson as Alex's daughter, Bethany.

Performances range from poor to passable.

We’ve seen better SFX and CGI, and more adventurous adventures. Unless you have a child in you that had stunted growth, I suggest you give this Jumanji a miss, and go for the next level. Something better will come up, surely, and soon.

Rating: **


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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