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‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ brings back smoldering fun — but it’s less kid-friendly

“Jumanji: The Next Level” is fun enough that the tease for a third film is not only justified, but will also have you wondering how things could possibly get even crazier in round 3

SHARE ‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ brings back smoldering fun — but it’s less kid-friendly
Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black and Karen Gillian.

Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black and Karen Gillan in “Jumanji: The Next Level.”

Sony Pictures

“JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL” — 3 stars — Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan; PG-13 (adventure action, suggestive content and some language); in general release; running time: 123 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” was surprisingly good. “Jumanji: The Next Level” is a fun and energetic follow-up, but it’s a bit less kid-friendly. It also wrestles with a touch of sequelitis.

Jake Kasdan’s “Next Level” picks up a couple of years after the 2017 film — a creative take on the original 1995 film that followed four unlikely teenage companions on an adventure inside a magic video game. 

For the most part, life is transitioning from high school to college on schedule. Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) is playing college football, and reformed mean girl Bethany (Madison Iseman) is traveling the world as a budding do-gooder.

Martha (Morgan Turner) is having a great time in college, but her relationship with Spencer (Alex Wolff) seems to be encountering turbulence. Spencer is at NYU, but his Big Apple experience isn’t exactly making his dreams come true, and when the group decides to get together over the Christmas break, Spencer is slow to commit to the reunion.

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Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart in “Jumanji: The Next Level.”

Sony Pictures

Spencer misses the feeling of confidence he felt inside the Jumanji game, and when he returns home to find his ailing grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) sharing his bedroom as he recovers from hip surgery, he decides enough is enough. Spencer heads down into his basement, where the damaged old game awaits, and returns to the virtual reality he longs for.

Eventually, Martha and the rest of Spencer’s friends realize what has happened and decide to go in after him. But the game malfunctions, sucking in Fridge and Martha, but leaving Bethany behind. Somehow it also grabs Eddie and his estranged friend Milo (Danny Glover), who had just come by to patch things up.

Once the now-expanded team arrives in the game, a familiar face (Rhys Darby) gives the players a new quest: Find and confront a baddie named Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann), who has stolen a magical stone.

But there’s one major twist this time around: The game has scrambled everyone’s alternate identities. Martha is still the high-kicking Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), but Eddie is now operating the Herculean Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge is stuck in Dr. Shelly Oberon (Jack Black) and Milo is the diminutive zoologist Finbar (Kevin Hart).

So “Next Level” ramps up the tension by adding all the identity crises to the search for Spencer — who has been implanted in the identity of a thief named Ming (Awkwafina) — and the quest for the stone, which will hopefully set everything right.

Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan and Jack Black in “Jumanji: The Next Level.”

Kevin Hart, Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan and Jack Black in “Jumanji: The Next Level.”

Sony Pictures

It’s a lot of fun to see Johnson and Hart wrestling their way around their new identities — even if it’s more of a challenge to follow what’s going on. Even with the identity transfers of the 2017 film, the movie had a focused trajectory, and “Next Level” struggles to achieve that same momentum.

“Next Level” also pushes a little further from kid-friendly territory with some vulgar humor — including an extended riff on a character being a eunuch — some frightening and intense sequences and enough profanity to make parents second-guess a family excursion. “Welcome to the Jungle” was a pretty tame PG-13, but “Next Level” moves farther to the heart of the rating’s content range.

The sequel brings plenty of exciting action sequences, though, set on vast desert sand dunes and elaborate jungle bridges, and the charismatic wit and charm remains intact. “Next Level” is fun enough that the tease for a third film is not only justified, but will also have you wondering how things could possibly get even crazier in round 3.

Rating explained: “Jumanji: The Next Level” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action violence and frightening images, vulgar humor and profanity (including religious expletives).