This 2019 American fantasy adventure comedy, sequel to 2017s ‘Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle’ and third in the franchise, is directed by Jake Kasdan. It stars Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman and series newcomers Awkwafina, Rory McCann, Danny Glover and Danny DeVito.

Fridge (Blain), Martha (Turner) and Bethany (Iseman) all reunite two years after their adventures in the video game Jumanji. But their fellow friend, Spencer (Wolff), doesn’t turn up. It becomes clear when they seek him out that he has returned back into the game, When the trio decide to go back to the game and pull him out, a malfunction in the once destroyed console also sucks in Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (DeVito) and his friend Milo (Glover). Once inside the game, it becomes apparent that a new threat has arisen.

But the trouble is not just dealing with a powerful villain intent on controlling Jumanji, but their mixed up avatars. Eddie is now Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), Milo is Franklin Finbar (Hart), Fridge is Sheldon Oberon (Black) and only Martha is back as the original Ruby Roundhouse (Gillan). Let the game commence!

Third in the series (and from a tease in the post-credits, not the last…) and second in the soft-reboot of the idea now taking place within the mystical world of Jumanji itself, ‘The Next Level’ does not disappoint when it comes to laughs and outrageous adventure. It follows strongly in the footsteps of its predecessor, the 2017 surprise smash, to flesh out our characters, add new ones into the mix and just be entertaining.

Danny DeVito and Danny Glover are our new grumpy old men. They come into the film as well established frenemies, and are soon thrust into the adventure. While again our true character leads bookend the film, their spirit and nature echo all the way through, and it’s great to have the cast back to continue their story. Yet, as we’ve seen before, it’s not all about the real people. It’s about their avatars, and ‘The Next Level’ does not disappoint.

Our biggest change in both character arc and humour is having DeVito and Glover fused into two leading avatars, and it falls upon Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart to channel DeVito and Glover respectively. It has to be seen to be believed, because on paper it sounds a dumb idea, but Johnson and Hart embody these two screen legends near perfectly for their characters Eddie and Milo. Gone for the most part are the younger Wolff and Blain as leads – now it’s time to see something very different and equally very amusing.

Not only do Johnson and Hart switch things up, but Jack Black now is acting as Blain (last time he was sweet, sugary Bethany), and is the most bad-ass, white man/African-American you’ve seen for years. These veterans transform into their real characters so easily, it makes watching them and listening to their arguments, confessions and worries so much more rewarding. From such a simple idea that I’ve made sound confusing here….it works, trust me!

Newcomer to the series Awkwafina as Ming Fleetfoot, a pick-pocket, also goes through her share of character swapping and pulls it off perfectly, thanks to her skillful comic timing and also grounded acting when required. Everything about their stance, their accent, their tone of voice just works and it’s the biggest selling point of the film. They’re still having a blast and having fun, and we should too watching them.

But, of course, it’s not all about our crazy collection of characters and their gaming powers. It’s about opening up the world of Jumanji for a bigger adventure than ever. Not just welcomed to the jungle this time, we are thrown into a dangerous dune sea with rampaging ostriches, a bazaar in the middle of a desert rife with villainous characters and a mountain range surrounded by blizzards. The set-pieces are just as fun as last time, and nothing is simply recycled for us to see again. The quest may be the only thing that is the same – retrieve a sacred jewel that has been stolen – but it’s the adventure along the way that keeps it different. Then again, this IS a video game so we know what to expect. Lots of bad guys, rip-roaring chases and some nasty wildlife.

With a runtime just under the 2hr mark, this doesn’t outstay its welcome or try to be something it’s not. Director Jake Kasdan, son of a well-known Lawrence, just sets out for the cast to have fun and in turn the audience to have fun. This isn’t out to change the adventure genre, but it does stick true to the spirit of Jumanji and what new ideas are being crafted without seeming stale thanks to the inclusion of new actors and roles into the mix which really carries things over. A potential fourth offering is hinted at, and could well bring the series full circle which could be VERY interesting.

The visual effects are heavy, but thankfully paint the world around our heroes and villains without being TOO cartoonish and forgoing of the practical sets and props. A rousing score by Henry Jackman does what you’d expect as jungle drums thunder as the danger increases.

There is little to pull apart in ‘The Next Level’. From a somehow lacklustre marketing drive that hopefully will not damage takings too much and in the same week as ‘The Rise Of Skywalker’, Johnson and co will have a battle to bring in the audiences but NOT for offering a weak film. Far from it. This is lots of fun, with so much passion injected from our leading actors that it’s impossible not to chuckle and laugh at the things they say. Watching Johnson and Hart early on is a treat, and they truly do convey the grouchy but confident New Jersey tones of DeVito and the calm, soothing persona of Glover.

Great fun for all the family, and a well-deserving both sequel and third instalment to show there is life left in the game to go forward even more. There is humour, heart – and more Hart – and some wonderful emotion towards the end that is running throughout the whole film. Welcome (back) to Jumanji!

Rating: ★★★★

Directed by:  Jake Kasdan
Written by: Jake Kasdan, Jeff Pinkner. Scott Rosenberg
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Awkwafina, Danny DeVito , Nick Jonas, Danny Glover