What can I say, it’s a sequel to an entertaining film. It tries to up the ante and add more characters and change the location a bit, but it basically is a second round of the game and there is not much to add to that.
So here is a brief description of the updates that worked to make this feel a bit more unique. First, the elderly characters that have been added strain the story a bit. Danny DeVito is fine before they get to the game, but his persona as played by Dwayne Johnson is not quite as fun as it should be. The character is passive at first, slowly becoming more aggressive as he discovers his abilities, but that change is a little inconsistent. Danny Glover’s character is a cliche that basically robs Kevin Hart of the ability to be as funny as he is capable of being.
Second, there are some new elements of the game that are fun. The characters encounter a mysterious water body that when they enter, their switch avatars. It is introduced in a side encounter and then completely discarded until later in the movie. When it does come back, we end up with the character assignments that worked so well in the first film and there is suddenly a lot more energy in the film. The concept that a player can take on the avatar of an animal is a fun one, and it does get the script out of a morose side story that was introduced for almost no reason.
Changing the local of the action from a jungle to the desert is not a bad choice. We still get a wild sequence with killer Mandrills and that felt a little out of place, but bouncing between scenarios of a video game probably is pretty standard stuff for players. I also liked that the game avatar moved from a jeep to a plane to deliver the original game plan for the crew. Suddenly it felt like an Indiana Jones rip off even more than it did originally. I enjoyed a couple of the pop song choices for this film. Having seen Chris Isaak just a couple of days ago, when “Wicked Game” started playing, my smile got a little bigger. I also enjoyed the call back of the character “Nora” and the casting choice there. I don’t know if others will notice it, but I did.
I have to say pretty much the same thing for “The Next Level” that I did for “Welcome to the Jungle“, it’s a perfectly acceptable family film that will entertain you for it’s running time. It is not trying to be anything other than that, so it hits it target. I think I enjoyed it a little less than the previous entry, but like a lot of confections, the second helping is never as great as the first.