Orange Thursday: Jumanji: The Next Level (2019) and The Philadelphia Experiment (2012)

Jumanji 2

Every Thursday, TMINE reviews two movies, carefully avoiding infringing a former mobile phone company’s trademarked marketing gimmick

It’s been nearly a month since the previous Orange Thursday, which is a bit pathetic but is testament to my general busyness. Anyway, it’s back… on Wednesday. This is largely because there was a bumper crop of new shows this week to glance at and since I haven’t had the chance to watch them all yet, I’ll be watching them tonight and covering them tomorrow in WHYBW. That means Orange Thursday has to come on a Wednesday.

This week’s double-bill is:

See you after the ads and the trailers.

Jumanji 2

Jumanji: The Next Level (2019)

When Spencer goes back into the fantastical world of Jumanji, pals Martha, Fridge and Bethany re-enter the game to bring him home. But everything about Jumanji is about to change, as they soon discover more obstacles and more danger to overcome.

Jumanji 2

Next levelling it

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) was one of those movies that fit squarely in the “a lot better than I thought it would be” category. A sequel to the 1990s Robin Williams movie, it switched out the original’s board game motif in favour of video gaming and then sent a bunch of teenagers into the game to fight for their lives – but as video game avatars played by Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart and Jack Black, rather than themselves.

And it was a lot better than I thought it would be. It quite neatly satirises video games, playing with tropes around NPCs, cut-scenes, special abilities, character design and more. It tells a decent story, as our teenager heroes and heroines have to learn about themselves and overcame their weaknesses and fears.

But at the end, the movie… ends. It’s quite clear it’s the end. No more journeys to Jumanji. No one wants to go through that again.

But Jumanji was a surprise hit, so naturally a sequel is heading our way, a mere two years later.

And again, I have to say, it was a lot better than I thought it would be.

No let-up

The movie’s first trick is to come up with a convincing reason to bring everyone back together. It hasn’t forgotten that everyone’s changed and seemingly become better people either – this isn’t a straight reprise of the first movie’s greatest hits, with everything on the default settings.

The second trick is to ‘break’ the game, resulting in some new people entering Jumanji as the the Rock et al – Danny Glover and Danny DeVito, in fact. It also makes everyone’s character choice more mobile – everyone may enter Jumanji as one character, but that doesn’t mean they have to stay as that character for the duration of the movie.

This allows both the main cast to play different roles during the movie and for the movie to add new cast members (such as Awkwafina) while still maintaining the same core group of teenagers.

All of which is quite cleverly handled and enables the movie to address age, gender, sex, muscularity and other concepts of identity – even species. It never dwells on them very long and its discomfort with Karen Gillan having to play a man for a scene is almost palpable; it also doesn’t really do much with these ideas once it has them, with “Wow, I have breasts now” being its only real examination of what might happen if a man were to become a woman.

But it does at least have these ideas and plays around with them. Plus Awkwafina does do a very good Danny DeVito impression, it turns out.

Awkwafine

Jumanji 2 also manages to add some more ideas to its takedown of video games, without simply repeating everything from the first movie. The highlight of this is an amusing, almost Seann Walsh-grade mockery of special moves.

But there’s a lot of subtler things going on, too, such as how the game has changed itself and the characters for this new level, a competition at who’s actually best at playing the same character (“You are the worst Bravestone ever” “You talk too slowly to be a zoologist!”) and – without ramming the point home – how you can be playing a game and frustratingly lose all your lives trying to solve the exact same puzzle.

By the end of it, I’d come to the conclusion that Jumanji: The Next Level was actually smarter than the original, albeit not quite as funny.

Intriguingly, it’s a little hard to tell whether it’s simply because Gillan stays as more or less the same character throughout, while Johnson is multiple characters, or whether it’s because Gillan’s standing as a star has become greater since the first movie because of her Marvel Cinematic Universe appearances, but she takes the lead in this. It’s very much her at the centre of the action throughout, with everyone else swirling around her.

Sure, the first half is once again dedicated to having her in a crop top, but the movie feels more balanced as a result of her being the de facto leader. And with the action moving on to different locations, she’s soon in more appropriate attire anyway.

Getting old

The movie does have its flaws. Its handling of age is curious – when Glover and DeVito are themselves, they’re a sympathetic portrayal of old age, with all its difficulties. I certainly felt more empathy with them than I did with the younger cast.

Cut to when they’re in Jumanji and suddenly we’re in the standard realm of “old people don’t understand technology, forget everything and need everything explained to them”. Which is odd, because that’s not even how the characters were portrayed in the first half.

Equally, Jack Black does a great job of portraying both ‘Fridge’ and ‘Bethany’ – but as they were in the first movie. While Awkwafina and Hart do well with their more mature personalities and characters, Black is resolutely committed to Bethany the ditz and Fridge the blowhard. And while Johnson starts off doing a pretty credible impression of DeVito, it’s about 10 minutes before he’s no longer noticeably bothering.

But these aren’t big issues, just things you wish could have been better if they’d thought about them harder.

The next next level

The ending – the mid-credit one, that is – clearly opens things up to new possibilities, including a reprisal of the first movie’s (spoiler alert) ‘game entering the real world’ theme , which clearly opens up the possibility of the ‘real’ Bravestone et al meeting our teenage heroes in Jumanji 3.

And I hope there is one – because I’m sure it’ll be a lot better than I think it will be.

The Philadelphia Experiment

The Philadelphia Experiment (2012)

Available on Amazon

The Philadelphia Experiment is one of those rare hoaxes/conspiracy theories that is less famous in and of itself than the movie(s) it has spawned. The idea that during World War 2, the US had the technology to make things invisible but it went a bit wrong and people started getting teleported around the US and stuck inside solid objects is patently nonsense.

But because there was a decent enough 1980s movie based on it, people still can remember it and don’t plonk it in a pile with other forgotten conspiracies like Chariots of the Gods.

The Philadelphia Experiment (1984) in turn spawned a sequel, The Philadelphia Experiment 2, which should probably have been enough for anyone. But such facts never stop Canadian TV channels from making low-budget TV versions that they confidently expect sci-fi fans to watch anyway.

The Philadelphia Experiment (2012) is a truly dreadful piece of work, with terrifyingly bad dialogue, special effects, plotting and direction that make the fourth season of Airwolf look like Legion. It occupies a sort of weird netherrealm of the mind in which you’re expected to have seen and know about The Philadelphia Experiment (1984) for it to make the slightest bit of sense, yet at the same time it’s not a sequel and directly contradicts it at times.

Philadelphia cream cheese

The movie gathers together a whole bunch of supporting cast from those TV series you like. It sees The X-Files‘ Nicholas Lea playing one of the original crew members of the USS Eldridge during the fateful experiment, which timewarps him and the ship into the present day. Lea is somehow linked to the ship and keeps phasing in and out of reality, but he gets super powers as compensation!

There he meets up with his own granddaughter, Emilie Ullerup (Sanctuary, jPod), a waitress/hacker who has been obsessed with the Eldridge since it disappeared during World War 2. Together, they have to work out how to get him home, particularly since the Eldridge keeps disappearing and reappearing, sometimes on top of or even in tall buildings in Chicago.

Meanwhile, there are evil government types led by Gina Holden, who want to use the Eldridge and the original science behind the experiment for their own benefit, even if it ends up destroying the world.

How can they fix what’s gone wrong? Well, if they can get Malcolm Macdowell to cameo for five minutes and say seven lines in exchange for top billing, maybe there’s a way…

Malcolm Macdowell

Experimental brain surgery

It really is hard to overstate how much unwatchable nonsense this all is. It has the feel of something hastily assembled to meet some tax-loophole’s filing deadline somewhere.

I hasten to add that most of the movie’s failings aren’t down to the cast, who are at least putting some effort in. Indeed, given half of them were in Stargate for 7,362 episodes, this is all very familiar territory for them.

But I also hasten to add at this point that there are some very terrible performances, too, particularly Holden’s. Meanwhile, Macdowell is obviously planning exactly which bank accounts he’s going to transfer his pay cheque into as he delivers each of his seven lines. You can almost see him remembering the account numbers.

It’s just that everything else that makes a movie bearable is sadly lacking from this terrible affair. It has a decent ending, but that’s its sole redeeming feature.

Don’t watch, even though it’s free on Amazon Prime.

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