MOVIE REVIEW: Jumanji: The Next Level

Finally… The Rock, has come back… to Jumanji!

Two years ago, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” released around Christmastime with relatively little hype and plenty of critical reluctance. It proceeded to shock the world with a nearly $1 billion box office haul. Audiences everywhere fell hard for contemporary changes that the sequel to Robin Williams’ 1995 film made – primarily the fact that its characters were stuck inside of a video game and not a board game, as in the original. The film also surprised by having its four primary characters – Spencer (Alex Wolff), Bethany (Madison Iseman), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), and Martha (Morgan Turner) inhabit the bodies of four avatars instead of playing the games as themselves. This gender-bending, personality-conflicting experience provided for hilarious comedy and the sequel does the same.

After saving Jumanji and returning to their lives with a new bond between them, the primary foursome has now graduated high school and are dealing with new challenges. Spencer and Martha are no longer dating and he, apart from the group due to attending college away from them in New York City, is experiencing a lack of confidence. In an effort to regain what he once felt while playing as Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Spencer pieces together the old broken console he’d kept hidden from his friends and makes the dangerous and reckless decision to go back inside of the game alone. Eventually, his crew follows him to Jumanji in an attempt to ensure he survives and bring him home, but Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his former restaurant co-owner Milo (Danny Glover) are accidentally sucked in as well.

Unfortunately for the returning players, not all goes as expected and they end up inhabiting different avatars than before. This fresh take allows for new interplay to exist between the foursome of Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, and Alex Wolff. I don’t want to spoil who ends up playing who, but both the chemistry between this group and their comedic talents shine as they portray different personalities than what you’ve seen before. It is simply a joy to watch them interact with one another, making this the kind of film you smile and laugh out loud throughout. 

The dynamic between Eddie and Milo is one of two old friends reconnecting after 15 years apart, trying to reconcile heated emotions around their different view of how their business venture ended, and it was my teenage son’s favorite part of the movie.  Whether it was the veteran comedy duo of DeVito and Glover or the hilarious way in which other actors portrayed their avatars as if they were those two, the age and physicality differences provided for fresh new comic material that was incredibly funny. Also making her first appearance in the series is Awkwafina, who continues to prove that she can do no wrong. Every scene she’s in is a treat, and the multiple characters she acts out are incredibly entertaining and hilarious.

“Jumanji: The Next Level” succeeds by once again reinventing its formula for a modern-day audience to great effect. The twist on who inhabits which avatar not only provides a wealth of humorous possibilities but some quality heartfelt moments of relationship building as well. Again the group is on an exciting adventure that takes them to interesting new locations and throughout the film, it is obvious the writers have looked to incorporate as many elements of current era action-adventure games as possible. In one sequence midway through, characters must retrieve a special item and to do so requires wall-running, jumping, and platforming that is heavily inspired by the Tomb Raider games. Later, during the film’s climax, a brilliant sequence includes characters activating unique player abilities, a full-on cinematic set-piece akin to what you’d see in the Uncharted video game series, and an awesome boss fight complete with multiple stages. There is even one moment toward the end of the film where a major action scene had me expecting giant buttons to pop up on the big screen, indicating a quick-time-event was taking place. Non-gamers may not recognize these elements being in the story, yet the film stands on its own just fine without that knowledge because it’s so much damn fun. And for those who do understand game design and can see the clever ways it is implemented in this sequel, it truly elevates “Jumanji” to “The Next Level”. 

If you go into this sequel expecting more of the same, you won’t be disappointed. This is a family-friendly adventure franchise that understands how to innovate while keeping the same creative tone that made it such a hit in the first place. Light on drama, heavy on action, with boatloads of fun and just enough emotional character development to make us care, “Jumanji: The Next Level” continues to break the Hollywood mold of disappointing reboots, remakes, and delayed sequels by providing an experience perfect for holiday enjoyment!


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 197: Midway (2019)

We celebrate Veterans Day this year with our second military film, Roland Emmerich’s newest blockbuster retelling of The Battle of Midway. Kevin Brackett from Reel Spoilers joins Aaron for a heartfelt conversation about the importance of historical accuracy, empathizing with the enemy, the power of immersive action sequences, and more. Thank you to all the Veterans who have served, are serving, and will serve one day. We appreciate your sacrifice!

Midway Review – 0:02:18

Connecting Point – 0:52:16

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MOVIE REVIEW: Midway (2019)

Fueled by a strong ensemble cast but told largely through the perspective of two Naval officers, SBD Dauntless dive bomber pilot Lieutenant Richard “Dick” Best (Ed Skrein) and the leader of the code-breaking efforts, key intelligence officer Lieutenant Commander Edwin Layton (Patrick Wilson), Director Roland Emmerich’s “Midway” serves as a cinematic documentary, recounting with great historical accuracy the bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent United States military action leading up to the titular Battle of Midway in June 1942. Emmerich is best known for his disaster films, big-budget blockbusters that often feature effects-heavy destruction on a massive scale, and “Midway” presents ample opportunities for that. The attack on Pearl Harbor, Doolittle Raid, and the Battle of Midway itself portray air warfare and naval combat in World War II like no other film has. While the CGI can at times feel a bit overwhelming with burning ships and a sky full of heavy artillery tracer fire, the numerous sequences of dive-bombing runs are among the most exhilarating, jaw-dropping, and enlightening aerial combat ever put on screen.

The extremely well-executed battle sequences of the film are engaging and memorable, but what makes “Midway” special is Emmerich’s dedication to getting history right. Written by Navy veteran Wes Tooke and with advisement from historians of the Naval History and Heritage Command, “Midway” includes very little Hollywood embellishment. Many of the heroic events depicted may seem unlikely or even impossible, but the courageous actions and sacrifice on display are very real (go and read the actual award citations if you have doubts) and indicative of the extreme efforts required for the United States to emerge victoriously and prevent the Japanese invasion of Midway despite a fleet that was vastly outnumbered and expected to lose. Also, part of the focus on historical accuracy was the choice to look at what motivated Admiral Yamamoto and Japan’s entry into the war and remind audiences that the horrors of battle are not only inflicted on the side they support but those of the opposing one as well.

The film’s focus on the human stories of those who lived on both sides of this conflict is at times rousing and at others heartbreaking. There is some bumpy dialogue from its first-time screenwriter, but the character development provides enough depth to inspire, and thankfully “Midway” never gets distracted by romantic or inconsequential subplots. If there is one major fault it may be that Emmerich moves too quickly, resulting in frequently abrupt scene transitions. Another 30-40 minutes of time spent with these brave souls, further expounding on the brilliant strategy battles between the two superpowers, and allowing for a smoother progression of time between major events would have been a welcome addition.

It’s great news, though, that my biggest complaint about the film is that I wish there was more of it. “Midway” was everything I wanted it to be – a thorough and satisfying look at the events of this World War II conflict, a chance to get to know the heroic people involved, and an amazing cinematic depiction of naval and aerial combat of the time period. “Midway” is truly a war epic updated for a modern audience and sets a new standard for the marriage of U.S. Navy history and spectacle on the big screen.


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.