Writing Tips and Film Critique

The Problem With Character Resets: Talking About Jumanji: The Next Level

There are SPOILERS ahead for Jumanji: The Next Level. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. I think you’ll enjoy it. If you have seen it, I hope you enjoyed it. I sure did. 🙂

Anyway, to be blunt, in Jumanji: The Next Level, I feel the writers made what I would label a tremendous blunder in storytelling, and that would be the reset of characters. I mentioned this type of thing before in my Terminator: Dark Fate post, how resetting characters only removes the progress that was made with them or could be made with them. What do I mean? Well, let’s take a look.

In The Next Level, there’s a scene in which Martha, as Ruby, falls into electrified water (I don’t really know if it was electric, but I’m calling it electric). Fridge, as Sheldon, helps her out of the water, and the pair are zapped into an exchange of their avatars. Fridge, now as Ruby, feels the excitement of Ruby’s athleticism and begins playing around. He ends up falling into the water too, and when Martha, now as Sheldon, helps Fridge out of the water, the pair are zapped again, their avatars once again exchanged so Martha is Ruby again and Fridge is Sheldon again.

Not only is much of this scene as an introduction to the electric water completely unnecessary – the avatar switching and Fridge’s playing around anyway – since the swap water can be introduced later in the movie, when the characters believe they need it, but the electric water itself is the component that gives us a character reset that drops any potential growth each character may have had.

What if Eddie would’ve remained in the Bravestone avatar and had to learn the restraint he didn’t have? What if the team had to find a way to deal with Milo’s slower feed of information to them as Franklin? What if Fridge and Martha accused Eddie and Milo of sabotaging the team, so they could stay in the game and live inside bodies that wouldn’t age or die? Would this cause a rift in the group, especially between Martha and Spencer, and how would they deal with that rift?

But the most obvious missed opportunity in the avatar swapping happened with Spencer, who began the game as Ming Fleetfoot. In the film, Spencer describes his new avatar as basically a mirror of himself in the real world, including everything about himself from the real world that he saw as weaknesses. The reason he re-entered the game in the first place was because he wanted to be back in the Bravestone avatar and live that power fantasy, and by resetting Spencer into the Bravestone avatar, the writers removed an opportunity for Spencer’s character to grow.

In the Ming avatar, since it so closely matched his real self, Spencer had an opportunity to overcome his weaknesses and discover his strengths, both in the game and in real life. We were told that Spencer couldn’t manage being in an avatar that was so like him, so he was switched to a much more powerful avatar (Bravestone). However, what if Spencer was locked in the Ming avatar, and he had to find the strength within himself to play as that avatar and do what needed to be done to help the team accomplish its goals toward beating the game? Not only would Spencer be finding the strength to be himself in the game, but he would also be finding the strength to be himself in the real world. Wouldn’t that be important, seeing as how the Bravestone power fantasy is what drew Spencer back into the game? Not being Bravestone yet helping the team to beat the game would aid Spencer in realizing, when back in the real world, that he doesn’t need the Bravestone fantasy or the game.

Spencer had a chance to move to the next level of belief in himself and his abilities, but the writers let that opportunity slip right through their fingers. What a wonderful message that could’ve been to the children watching the film, that while a video game can fulfill a power fantasy, it’s still important to learn how the strength inside you, no matter what you believe about yourself at first, is right there for you to discover and take hold of and be successful with. No matter how much you look down on yourself, the truth is that you are more than enough to accomplish your goals and come together with your friends and family to help each other in times of need.

As fun of a movie as I thought Jumanji: The Next Level was, I feel the movie could’ve been so much more meaningful had the writers stayed on the path they started on when the characters entered the game rather than pressing the reset button, swapping the main characters back into their preferred avatars, because it was easier for them to beat the game that way.

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