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The original Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a classic film, inasmuch as such a young film can be classic. The premise is somewhat fresh, but not impenetrable for non-gamers, the cast, young and old, do a great job of showing off (especially the older actors who get to flex their acting muscles rather than just play themselves), and the action exciting without being too busy most of the time. The script is also not only hilarious and heartfelt in equal measure, but surprisingly tight and on-point, with very few spare moments. The only chinks in its armor are sometimes unimpressive (but never truly bad) CGI effects, and a performance by Kevin Hart that doesn't do a good job of living up to the premise of a beefy jocky football player trapped in his body.
So, with all that, is the sequel up to par? ...Well... I mean...
It's a good movie, let's get that out of the way right now. The script is still hilarious, and the actors all get to further show off their chops. Special mention to Dwayne Johnson, now playing a nasally and perpetually-confused old man and nailing it so hard I keep forgetting Danny DiVito is actually barely in the movie, and Kevin Hart for taking that criticism on the chin and absolutely murdering his role as a confused old man, but all the actors, old and new, do a great job with what their roles demand.
And the action setpieces are just as good as last time, with a few nice bits that have a bit of fun with the video game premise, like one player redoing a challenge for fun, or introducing a boss fight based around exploiting weaknesses. There're even a few bits of roleplaying incentivization, which are then hilariously underutilized by the underinformed cast.
Unfortunately... well, if that first script was gloriously taut and well-constructed, this one is flabby and loose. Plenty of character strengths and weaknesses go underexplored. Poor Karen Gillian barely gets to join in the fun of playing a new character for most of the movie. The character of Alex Vreeke is absolutely tragically underutilized, such that I almost wish they hadn't bothered including him at all rather than bring him in so heavily underdeveloped.
Worse, these things do a certain amount of thematic damage to the film. Spenser's whole character arc is built on his imposter syndrome and feelings of insecurity, and on his desire to return to the powerful, smoldering Bravestone again, only to be trapped in a body he contemptuously compares to himself. But, rather than get by on that body's talents, and learning that he has plenty of value in and of himself, he manages to get back to piloting the Rock's gorgeous hunk of Samoa for the climax, in which his old character's strengths are useless anyway. Ming's weakness to pollen doesn't even come up, when the last game managed to work in mosquitoes, venom, and cake!
And Eddie demonstrates, during the mandrill chase, that while he's a confused old man when it comes to the traditional action hero video game stuff and seems like a millstone around the party's collective neck, he's actually very clever and capable of lateral thinking under pressure. Yet, the film treats Fridge's rant about how bad he is at this as correct, and switches him into an ineffectual body for the climax.
...These feel like unfair criticisms, but again. The first film was very tightly written, and this one just isn't. And I'm afraid I put great stock in proper construction, in set-up and pay-off.
This isn't a bad movie. Hell, taking into account everything this movie does right (and honestly, half the reason the movie pissed away great character development potential was to let Jack Black continue to show off what a polymath actor he really is, and fair enough I suppose), I outright recommend you go see it, assuming you have seen the first film.
So I guess my answer is, yes, it's up to par with the original... but if the original was four clean swings, this film's two clean swings, one incredible one, and a miss. They both still hit par, but one of them looks messier in the process.
And seriously, see the original first. This isn't a new-viewer friendly movie, and it's not like the original is hard to find or anything.
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