Jungle Cruise (2021)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra Rated: PG-13 Runtime: 2hr 7 min
Studio: Disney Screenwriter: Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Cast: Emily Blunt, Paul Giamatti, Dwayne Johnson, Edgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall
Movies are adapted from books, real-life events, and video games, but Jungle Cruise was based on a Disney theme park ride. It’s an ode to the capitalistic aspirations of the American-based company. Digressing from that, it is a palate cleanser to all the sci-fi, superhero, or low-rent quality content currently swirling around.
When I first saw this film’s trailer, I wanted to see it. Not because the plot was original (it’s not), but because Emily Blunt’s films are always entertaining. In that, I wasn’t disappointed. She’s a wonderfully talented actress who is more than capable of portraying whatever is required of her. In Jungle Cruise, she’s Dr. Lily Houghton, a sassy British botanist who’s out to find a magical plant that will cure-all, a vital tool as World War One rages. It also would validate herself amongst the sexist scientific community. She sets off to the Amazon to search for this fabled plant, with her brother, MacGregor (Whitehall), in tow.
Once there, she encounters Nilo (Giamatti), a Prince (Plemons), and Frank Wolff (Johnson), who are all in the middle of their own mico issues that help Lily and MacGregory meet Frank, their riverboat captain, and continues the tone for the film. That tone, feeling, is similar to the banter, charm, hijinx, and quirkiness of The Mummy and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises, with a hint of Indian Jones. If there was more action and humor with Johnson in tow, I could have seen this as a workable version of Jumanji as well. It’s an exciting mix, but I did say this plot isn’t original.
The plot feels familiar, and so do aspects of the story, but it’s not so campy despite Frank making bad captain (dad) jokes. The romantic segway is on the nose for Disney, but it’s not so groan-worthy it’s unwatchable.
Cinematically it’s beautiful; it was filmed in Hawaii. Despite the cast, the rest was made possible by an army of CGI experts. Edgar Ramírez’s Aguirre has snakes coming out of him; one comes out of his face! The stunt and action sequences are well done for the type of movie that Jungle Cruise is and the period for which it’s set. I wish that Aguirre and his cohorts had more screen time, a chance to add more conflict to the story. It seems like a missed opportunity to not use them more.
I don’t see movies purely because Johnson is in them; his “acting” does nothing for me. I’d be more impressed if he could do a film where he didn’t throw something, have a fight scene, or swing off/jump off something. When you have an actor who can do their own stunts, great, but he doesn’t scream to me, a seasoned riverboat captain and con man. Depending on the age, Andrew Garfield or Jack Davenport-type actors would have fit the bill better than Johnson. When we think of Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones or Brendan Fraser’s Rick O’ Connell, one will out-think his opponents. The other is going to shoot at you. Dwayne Johnson is just going to punch you across the Amazon and keep going.
It’s a simple story, but it’s consistent with a plot that doesn’t spring too many leaks from beginning to end. There are times where the pace stalls, not from poor editing but the plot arrangement in general. The energetic performances by the cast and the general chemistry they all have together make it entertaining enough to get through. Jungle Cruise is different from others in its genre because the protagonists seek a magical plant and not the fountain of youth and whatnot. Or that it’s a woman searching and not a man. They’re small twists, but it works. Moreover, unlike Pirates, Indiana Jones, or The Mummy, Jungle Cruise is more family-friendly.
Jungle Cruise isn’t a cinematic masterpiece; it is a carefree way to spend time with the family for a few hours. It’s a textbook example of a popcorn film, made to watch as an escape for a few hours of innocent enjoyment. If that’s your thing, then give Jungle Cruise a place on your watchlist.
-A Pen Lady