If there is any Hollywood actor who never fails to entertain Malaysian audiences, it’s probably Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
As buff as he is funny, the towering thespian once again takes centre-stage in a film that fits this festive season with the joy it brings to adults and children alike.
Directed by the returning Jake Kasdan, Jumanji: The Next Level is the sequel to the 2017 film, starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black.
And this time, coming along for the ride are acting veterans Danny DeVito and Donald Glover, who are no lesser a bundle of laughs than their younger leads.
Set shortly after the events of the previous film, the plot takes off when Spencer, the nerdy lad played by Alex Wolff, disappears into Jumanji with his friends jumping right in to save him.
This time around though, the teenagers inadvertently join the game together with Spencer’s eccentric grandfather, Eddie, played by DeVito and his ex-business partner, Milo, played by Walker.
Together, young and old have to band together to survive the perilous route that the game forces them to travel in order to save Spencer and escape back to the real world.
One thing that has stayed consistent with the Jumanji movies, all three of them, including the first with Robin Williams, is that they have stuck to a tried and tested formula.
The main characters will get trapped in the game in some form and will have to face deadly challenges in order to escape. Their true characters will come to the surface because of their ordeal and they will grow closer to their companions as a result of their shared experience.
In most cases, movies sticking with repeated formulas tend to get uncreative and stale over time. But Jumanji is exceptional as this formula is what makes it entertaining and timeless.
Jumanji: The Next Level throws in new elements to keep it fresh and the comedy retains its bite as a result.
The plot may itself be extremely simple; after all, it’s nothing more than a glorified rescue mission. But it is the characters and the actors who play them who make up for it.
The four leads are still as fun as ever and they are clearly enjoying their roles, which makes it easier for the audience to love along with them.
Smouldering as the centrepiece of the film is Johnson, as the strong and dashing Smolder Bravestone.
For most of the film, Bravestone is the player character for DeVito’s Grandpa Eddie, and just seeing the musclebound adventurer behave like a cranky old grandfather is enough to throw you into cackles.
And it’s not only him who has the most drastic shift in character behaviour, for Hart’s Franklin “Mouse” Finbar ends up being the player character for Glover’s Milo.
The usually fast-talking and easily exasperated Finbar is certainly a sight to behold when he turns into a slow-talking, easy-going elderly gentleman.
The best bits of comedy really come from these two, as it’s a riot watching Johnson and Hart act like bumbling old folks who are taking a long while to understand anything that’s going on.
Playing the fearsome Ruby Roundhouse, Karen Gillan is charismatic and has good comedic timing as always. She is equally impressive in terms of her physical prowess, performing several stunts herself.
And of course, Jack Black never fails to tickle the audience with his antics. It helps that this time around, instead of a sulky teenage girl, he behaves like an athletic jock who cannot accept that he’s trapped in the tubby body of academician, Sheldon Oberon.
The interactions between these characters and the bonds formed, strengthened or reforged are what give this film a good amount of heart as well.
By the time the credits start rolling, you might just have a change of perspective with how you see your elderly loved ones and how you treat them.
But given that this is Jumanji, it’s the challenges they tackle together that is the highlight of the film.
With deadly hordes of ostriches and a massive brawl in a mountain fortress, there’s never a moment that will not leave you gripping your armrests.
The CGI is impressive as always and even though some of the situations the heroes find themselves in can be pretty over-the-top, they are never absurd enough to make you question the film.
To put it bluntly, if there’s any movie that you should watch together with family and friends this holiday season, it’s certainly Jumanji: The Next Level.
It’s a barrel of laughs bundled with exhilarating action as well as a good amount of heart.