Directed by: Jaume Collet-Serra
Premise: Based on the Disney theme park ride. An adventurer and her brother (Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall) recruit a boatman (Dwayne Johnson) to pilot them through the Amazon in pursuit of a magical flower.
What Works: For viewers who have some knowledge of cinema history, Jungle Cruise is an interesting play on jungle-based films of earlier eras. Like the theme park ride, the film Jungle Cruise is inspired by 1951’s The African Queen. The new film also makes reference the jungle adventure pictures that were popular in the 1930s and 40s and even some of the Italian cannibal films released in the 1970s and 80s as well as Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Jungle Cruise plays as a contemporary reinterpretation of those movies. It has the thrills of adventures in an exotic locale but Jungle Cruise also upends some of the racism and sexism of those earlier movies. The picture also benefits from some good casting. The film is primarily centered around the steamboat captain played by Dwayne Johnson and an adventurer played by Emily Blunt. The two of them exchange insults but gradually learn to like one another and Johnson and Blunt are an agreeable onscreen couple. Also notable is Jesse Plemons as a villainous German prince who is also in pursuit of the magical flower. Plemons plays the role pretty broad but he’s funny and creates a unique character.
What Doesn’t: Jungle Cruise is very reminiscent of Disney’s first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Aside from being based on Disney theme park rides, Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean have remarkably similar stories. Both films see a British couple recruiting a terrible captain to lead them on a quest for a magical McGuffin that’s also desired by other parties including a band of cursed adventurers. But Jungle Cruise does not do the formula nearly as well as the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. There’s little sense of stakes. It never matters who gets the magical flower. The action scenes are serviceable but never more than that and Jungle Cruise is saddled with a story that is unnecessarily complex and has too many characters. Jack Whitehall is cast as the brother of Emily Blunt’s character and he is totally extraneous to the story; his character serves no purpose and Whitehall’s character is an effeminate gay stereotype. Some of the characters’ accents are dodgy, most obviously an Amazonian businessman played by Paul Giamatti; the actor’s accent constantly shifts, sometimes within the same sentence, and Giamatti voice careens between something that’s probably supposed to be Italian and an imitation of Al Pacino in Scarface. The special effects of Jungle Cruise are varied. Some are quite good but others are terrible, especially a computer-generated jaguar that looks like a cartoon.
Bottom Line: Jungle Cruise is a mediocre adventure movie. It’s got enough self-awareness to be an interesting jungle film and Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson are a likable on-screen duo but on the whole Jungle Cruise is average and generic.
Episode: #864 (August 15, 2021)