Movie review: ‘Jumanji: The Next Level’

From left are Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan and Jack Black in a scene from ‘Jumanji: The Next Level.’ Columbia Pictures

The idea behind "Jumanji" was always a brilliant conceit: A game that literally drags players into it, posing various life-threatening and crazy challenges until they are forced to hit certain goals and the final moves are achieved.

Of course in the 1995 original (not counting the semi-offshoot "Zathura") starring Robin Williams, the plot was built around an old fashioned board game, which is first glimpsed at the beginning when a couple of kids in the past bury the game and run away terrified.

When producers returned to the well in 2017 and subtitled it "Welcome to the Jungle," the ante was upped by the idea that the game had evolved into a video platform, plus it included a high-powered cast headed by Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Nick Jonas.

Interestingly, it was not just a reboot because it included a character named Alex (Jonas) who was familiar with the one played by Robin Williams with whom he shared the game universe for 26 years.

This time around, the main characters return for another adventure, but this time the reasons for getting absorbed into the game aren’t exactly accidental.

To those not familiar with how the game idea works, first there is a group of high school teens, who got sentenced to detention and while there discovered the video game. Once activated, the game grabbed each into its adventure and transformed them into avatars, complete with multiple “lives,” plus a list of powers and things that will kill them.

These avatars are Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), Professor Sheldon Oberon (Black), Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan), and Franklin Finbar (Hart). Transformed into each of them are Martha (Morgan Turner), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Bethany (Madison Iseman) and Spencer (Alex Wolff).

Now in college, each has gone off to their own separate lives, but because of their shared adventure, they remain close. Especially close was the relationship that developed between Spencer and Martha. But right before a school break when they were all hoping to get back together Spencer drops off the map. In looking for him, they figure he has somehow gotten back into the game. So, they activate the game and get absorbed.

Except, there is one big problem.

At Spencer’s house are his elderly grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his estranged former business partner Milo (Danny Glover), who is there to reconcile. It is they who end up inside the game along with the players.

While it’s obvious director and co-writer Jake Kasdan had the idea of shaking things up a bit comedy-wise by introducing these two characters, once inside the game the urge to use ageist jokes seemed to be too hard to resist. Thankfully, each of the characters are given a chance to grow and learn from their experience, and even find some resolution.

The movie overall is fun and addictive because it draws the audience into the adventure by following along the game conceit. Watch for a wonderful new character played by Awkwafina, who basically steals the show. Oh, and don’t leave right away when the credits start to roll. There’s a little something extra to see.

Tempo grade: B+

“Jumanji: The Next Level” is rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language.

It is screening daily at Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit storyteller7.com.

Also showing in Taos

Pain and Glory

MPAA rating: R for drug use, some graphic nudity and language.

Taos Community Auditorium

This film from acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar tells of a series of reencounters experienced by Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), a film director in his physical decline.

Some of them in the flesh, others remembered: his childhood in the 60s, when he emigrated with his parents to a village in Valencia in search of prosperity, the first desire, his first adult love in the Madrid of the 80s, the pain of the breakup of that love while it was still alive and intense, writing as the only therapy to forget the unforgettable, the early discovery of cinema, and the void, the infinite void that creates the incapacity to keep on making films.

“Pain and Glory” talks about creation, about the difficulty of separating it from one's own life and about the passions that give it meaning and hope. In recovering his past, Salvador finds the urgent need to recount it, and in that need he also finds his salvation.

This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 15) and at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (Dec. 16-18) at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.

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