Where Welcome to the Jungle felt unexpectedly fresh, its sequel feels like a safe cash-in. As a direct sequel, The Next Level finds some additional mileage in the formula by mixing up the now university-age characters inhabiting the various videogame avatars, as well as throwing in two old folks for good measure. The most fun to be had is in Dwayne Johnson’s impersonation of Danny DeVito, replacing his adolescent awkwardness in the previous film with an irascible lack of awareness. At nearly two hours, The Next Level overstays its welcome despite some energetic action set-pieces. The premise remains frequently fun but weaker character arcs provide limited depth and what should feel wildly exotic feels disappointingly familiar.
“Kong’s god on the island, but the devils live below us.”
An unexpected mash-up of Jurassic Park 3 and Apocalypse Now results in a brash big-budget B-movie but it does nothing for its titular character beyond scaling him up to 300 feet. We see Kong express both rage and protectiveness, but there is little nuance to the giant ape. Even Rampage imbued its giant ape with some depth, but here Kong is a force of nature reacting to human intrusion. Those humans are a diverse team of scientists and specialists escorted by soldiers fresh out of the Vietnam War, though there is no substance to the numerous nods to Apocalypse Now — it serves more as an in-joke. The audience perspective is that of Tom Hiddleston’s SAS-turned-tracker and Brie Larson’s photojournalist, both of whom treat Kong with the requisite awe and respect. The remaining characters serve largely as interchangeable fodder for the island’s creatures. I can’t recall seeing credits open with a concept artist but plainly Skull Island’s varied fauna owe a debt to Crash McCreery’s designs. The producers’ end goal is clearly next year’s Godzilla vs Kong and, based on the special effects in Skull Island, one can expect it to deliver on spectacle at the very least (and, likely, at most).
“A huge earthquake happens, who do they rescue first? Actors. They’ll rescue Clooney, Sandra Bullock, me. If there’s room, you guys will come.”
If Ocean’s 12 was an excuse for Clooney and his actor friends to hang out at his Lake Como villa, This Is The End dispenses with the pretence entirely as Seth Rogan, James Franco and friends play themselves riding out the apocalypse at Franco’s house. The main cast toy with their public perception, though the film’s best conceit is the suggestion that, if the Rapture were to occur, no one at a Hollywood house party would notice. Most of the cameos are fun but forgettable, the standouts being those who play against type — a shameless Michael Cera and a violent Emma Watson. One imagines the general lack of female presence is a product of the fraternal nature of the friendship group behind This Is The End, but the near total absence of women is disappointing and to its detriment. The script is peppered with hilarity and entertaining moments strung together by lazy writing and tired gross-out humour. Comedies like this typically lose traction the longer they run but, despite frequently lagging in the middle and perhaps aided by a wafer-thin plot which requires little conclusion, the film closes surprisingly strongly, leaving a better overall impression than I would have expected halfway through.
“Great, but can you make it a little more challenging this time?”
The problem with a sequel to a movie in which the main characters had substantial character arcs is that there is often nowhere left to go. At the end of the previous film, Ralph and Vanellope had both made peace with their roles in their respective game worlds. This time round, Ralph seeks only to maintain the status quo while Vanellope wants to explore the wider world of the Internet. The result is a story about friends growing apart and how friendships can still be maintained through tumultuous changes if people are honest and supportive of one another’s feelings. For children who have grown a few years since the first movie, this may be a useful message. Parents, however, are likely to find considerably less nostalgic humour in the film’s visual representation of the Internet than in Wreck-It Ralph‘s take on the heyday of arcade games. The strongest scenes still occur when John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman are able to bounce off one another (unusually they recorded their lines together) but their effectiveness is constrained as Ralph and Vanellope spend large portions of the sequel apart.
“It’s a lot easier to be brave when you’ve got lives to spare. It’s a lot harder when you only have one life.”
Dr Smolder Bravestone
When Jumanji was first announced, I expected a lazy nostalgia cash-in. It was a pleasant surprise to find a thoughtful and fresh take on the jungle adventure. Although boardgames are now in vogue once more, a shrewd move is for the original movie’s cursed game to transforms itself into a 90s console cartridge before being discovered in the present day by four schoolkids in detention. The use of outdated 90s videogame tropes as characters, inhabited by the minds of these children, allows for smartly written conflict and self-discovery. The highlight is undoubtedly Jack Black’s performance as a phone-obsessed teenage girl, whilst Dwayne Johnson ably undercuts his own typical charismatic presence with a believable lack of self-confidence. Meanwhile, intentionally clunky 90s videogame exposition and level structure keeps the pace swift in this fun comedy-adventure.
“We’ve kind of got a bit of a “save the world” situation here.”
A bloated sequel that tries to recapture its anarchic satire of the Bond franchise’s excesses with muted success and decidedly less charisma from its leads, I actually enjoyed this far more than I feared from its critical reception. Arguably the story’s chief sin is swiftly to sideline its female cast, leaving once again a field of exclusively male agents. It makes the film’s direct references to equality and loyalty feel somewhat crass. Seeing the British Kingsmen working alongside their US counterparts, The Statesmen, is perhaps tailored to me (pun intended) but the creative design throughout both the Statesman HQ and the villain’s lair is wonderful. Whilst nothing matches the first film’s church brawl, there is still substantial creativity to the action set pieces.