Getting sucked into a magical video game and nearly dying has a way of changing you. It certainly did for Spencer and his friends. It made this quartet of completely disparate teens— super-jock Fridge, cool-girl Bethany, geeky Spencer and brainiac Martha—friends, for one thing.
Time, though, can change things, too. In the two years since their death-defying experience (in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), they’ve all gone their separate ways. And they really haven’t stayed in close contact, as they had thought they would. Even Spencer and Martha—the two who came out of the game as a definite couple—have sorta drifted apart as of late.
So, when Spencer heads home to meet up with his pals over Christmas break from the NYC university he’s now attending, he’s feeling a bit less excited than he expected. He’s actually feeling like something of a loser: kinda like he used to feel when they were all together in high school together.
That’s apparently why he digs the pieces of the smashed up Jumanji video game console out of a box in his basement. It’s crazy, in light of all that happened before. But Spencer longs for the thrill of playing his heroic in-game avatar, Dr. Smoulder Bravestone.
Before you can say, What are you thinking!?, Spencer and his pals are once again sucked into the dangerous video game world of Jumanji. Only this time, Spencer’s octogenarian Grandpa Eddie gets pulled into the story, too. Oh, and Grandpa Eddie hits the digital ground running in the role of the hero, Bravestone, instead of Spencer.
Which raises the important question: Can a hero be incredibly muscular … and crotchety?
Spencer’s grandfather, Eddie, and his former business partner and best friend, Milo, are both pulled into the world of Jumanji along with the younger folks. At first, the two are at odds with each due to an unresolved conflict from years before. But as the Jumanji adventure unfolds, they gradually realize how much their friendship means to them, and they both ask for forgiveness for things they said in anger over the years.
In fact, the belligerent Eddie eventually softens to the point of getting sentimental and telling his friend, “Being your friend and partner was one of the best things I ever got to be.” Milo also expresses his heartfelt feelings, adding, “When you’re scared and insecure, that’s when you need your people the most.”
That moment of reconciliation also changes Grandpa Eddie’s attitude about life. Early on, he limps around with his bad hip and grouses crudely, “Getting old sucks!” But after reconciling with his friend, talking through their past together and surviving the dangerous video game journey, Eddie tells Spencer: “Getting old is a gift. I forget that sometimes, but it is. What more could a guy possibly want?”
In like manner, Spencer’s attitude about his life improves, too. He and his friends all rally together, rely on one another, and unanimously voice their devotion. And, of course, they repeatedly put their lives on the line to save each other (and the land of Jumanji) as well.
The Jumanji game is imbued with unexplained magic. Even though it starts out as a pile of smashed pieces, there’s still a mystical spark that draws the players into its world.
This time, however, the game’s former jungle locales are replaced with a variety of spots ranging from dune-covered deserts to snowy mountaintops. The players’ main quest is to break a withering, famine-like curse that beset the land after a nefarious villain stole a powerful ancient jewel.
Spencer and the gang also come across magical waters that allow the players to switch back and forth between the different in-game characters. And there’s a horse character in the mix this time around as well, just to mix things up a bit further.
Like the first film, it’s clear that each character has three videogame lives. Life gauges, represented by hashmark tattoos on their arms, decrease in number each time they are killed in the game. After each “death” they disappear, and an unharmed version of their avatar regenerates and drops from the sky.
As was the case in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Martha plays as an acrobatic female warrior named Ruby Roundhouse. Ruby wears a shorts-and-croptop outfit, à la Lara Croft, that exposes quite a bit of her muscular form. And the camera doesn’t shy away from gazing at her, either.
Smoulder Bravestone is also quite muscular. (He’s controlled most of the time by either Grandpa Eddie or Spencer.) The character kisses Ruby passionately at one point as well as another female dressed in a form-fitting, low-cut outfit. In fact, when kissing that latter woman (as he’s being controlled by Grandpa Eddie) Bravestone compels her to kiss him passionately over and over.
Through the magical water’s body-swap properties, Fridge has a short stretch controlling Ruby, too. He marvels at the avatar’s body and reports that the first thing he did upon taking control was to quickly touch her “boobs.” A female character who ends up embodying a male likewise bends over to look at his (clothed) crotch. There’s also a slight wink made toward gender swapping in general. A crude joke is made about a horse’s genital size and another character’s lack in that department.
Though the movie doesn’t ever talk about gender fluidity in the way that our culture often embraces that idea, the constant back-and-forth movement of male characters into female bodies (and vice versa) potentially reinforces that idea in a subtle way.
The world of Jumanji is staged as an action-adventure/fantasy game, so there are many thumping, pummeling fights, shootings and explosions that unfold during the heroes’ adventure. We also learn that each character has his or her own strengths and weaknesses.
Dr. Bravestone, for instance, is incredibly strong and at one point takes on scores of attackers, slamming them with mighty blows and driving marauding minions into and through walls with just his fists. Also, when an avatar is defeated, he or she explodes in a red-tinged splash. We see all the heroes die in that manner (repeatedly, too) courtesy of a wide variety of attacks. Some are pecked at and killed by large ostriches (which are portrayed almost like feathered velociraptors). The heroes are also beaten and bitten by throngs of screeching mandrill monkeys in an extended scene that could be quite scary for young or sensitive viewers.
People get hit with axes and blown up by a rocket launcher missile. Others fall from great heights and are crushed by huge boulders. Cars crash and crumple. Someone is nearly swallowed whole by a giant python, and a man barely misses being chomped by a charging hippo. And a couple of them are threatened with a machete before the camera cuts away.
The villain, Jurgen the Brutal, is a super-powerful individual who even slams Dr, Bravestone around. We’re told how murderous and terrible he is, and we see him toss bloody chunks of meat to his pet hyenas—flesh that we’re told came from a man he killed.
We hear a surprising 15 misuses of God and Jesus’ names (combined), including a whopping eight pairings of God’s name with “d–n.” There are also two or three uses of the s-word, a stand-in for the f-word, some 15 uses of “h—,” and a handful of uses each of “b–tard,” “a–,” d–n,” and “b–ch.”
We see Spencer inhale multiple puffs from an inhaler for his asthma in a stressful moment.
Grandpa Eddie points out that young Spencer only has a steady physical and emotional decline in front of him.
It’s easy and, quite frankly, fair to think of this latest Jumanji pic as a more-of-the-same sequel. If anything, it leaps into the sucked-into-a-video-game action of the previous movie much more quickly this go ‘round. And it offers up even more of the more you’d expect.
On the positive side of the ledger, that equals an abundance of Indiana Jones-like rolling-boulder, thump-and-tumble, slapstick action. And along with a pumped-up cast list full of likeable characters, there are even more funny and sweet moments, as well as some nice lessons about the value of friends, the need for forgiveness and the quiet glory of growing old.
But here’s the problem: This film feels anything but appropriate for families of young kids—the very audience you’d assume it’s made for. The language here is so foul and profane, it feels almost shocking. And the deadly looking action will certainly leave younger family members ducking for cover.
In fact, you could think of Jumanji: The Next Level as something akin to owning a family monkey. I mean, the idea seems rollicking and fun. But if you actually unleashed a screeching mandrill monkey in your family room, you’d be heading for an exit, tout suite.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.