December 25, 2019 – This is the latest of a series of movies based on the books and illustrations of Chris Van Allsburg (“Jumanji,” “The Polar Express” and “Zathura”). This particular film is actually a sequel to a 2017 reboot of the original 1995 film (it is also argued that this film is technically a second sequel to the original 1995 film).
All of these Van Allsburg stories feature the theme of young people learning life lessons through the trials of an adventure. This sequel ranges far from that theme in that all the characters are basically adults, and two of them are retired seniors.
As in the other movies, all the characters are absorbed into a magical video game and become avatars in the game, played by a set of actors trying to pretend to behave like the characters they were before they were inside the game world.
The two retired seniors are Edward "Eddie" Gilpin (played by Danny DeVito) and his estranged friend, Milo Walker (Danny Glover). The two had been friends and partners, running a restaurant, but split up when Milo decided to retire, and Eddie, who did not want to retire, resented him for that decision, which forced him to sell the restaurant.
Eddie is also the grandfather of Spencer Gilpin (played by Alex Wolff, reprising his role from the previous film, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”). It is Spencer who reactivates the game that was supposedly destroyed at the end of the previous Jumanji film, causing his friends to go into the game to try to rescue him. His motivation for reactivating this very dangerous game is very flimsy.
His friends, who go into the game to rescue him, are Anthony 'Fridge' Johnson (Ser'Darius Blain) Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner) and Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman) accompanied by yet another character from the previous movie, all reprising their roles from the previous film.
Once in the game, they become these avatars played by these actors, Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) Franklin "Mouse" Finbar (Kevin Hart) Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon (Jack Black) and Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan of “Avengers: Endgame”). These characters and actors reprise some of their roles from the previous film, plus some new ones, and, in a new twist during this film, they occasionally switch bodies. New avatars invented for this film include a very special horse and a talented thief, Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina of “Crazy Rich Asians”).
Inside the game, they have to recover a magical gemstone from a powerful villain in order to save the world from Jumanji. Finding the gem and exposing it to the sun while saying the magic word, will free them from the game world. As in the previous film, their guide character is the non-player character Nigel Billingsley (played by Rhys Darby of “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”).
I liked this new adventure just enough to recommend it, but like most sequels, it is not as good as the previous film, in this case, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” which I actually liked better than the original 1995 film. The action-adventure part of the film is not convincing, but the emotions on display, as the characters resolve their conflicts, work well.
The plot of this film is a little too busy, with characters switching Avatar bodies, and trying to resolve their real world emotional problems in the middle of an artificial adventure. It is quite evident when the adventure stops so that the characters can talk about things that are more real. The emotional problems of people in the “real world” of the film are a lot more powerful than the artificial reality of the game, if that makes any sense.
This is a film that fits well into its holiday time slot. It is pure escapism, with just enough comedy, adventure and pathos to be entertaining. It rates a C+.
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