TL;DR – While it has its moments and is quite watchable, it also can’t escape walking in the shadows of better films of the past.
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Disclosure – I paid for the Disney+ subscription that viewed this show.
Jungle Cruise Review –
When Disney gets an idea, they tend to go all-in, having many hits and misses. So when a film based on one of their rides worked, well, then everything was on the table. But for every Pirates of the Caribbean, there is The Haunted Mansion or even Tomorrowland, which means that there was a little trepidation going in even with a solid cast at the helm.
So to set the scene, history had been full of stories of the hidden wonders in the American continent. One such story told of a plant, ‘Tears of the Moon’, that could cure any illness, but no expedition to find it ever succeeded. In 1916 London, England, during World War One, Dr Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) is trying to access records from the Royal Society to help her locate it. But they refused to give information to a woman, even when she used her brother MacGregor Houghton (Jack Whitehall) as a decoy. But a minor theft later, and they were on their way to Porto Velho on the Amazon River in Brazil, they just needed a captain to take them upriver, and tour boat operator Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) just found their next mark.
While there are a lot of issues with the film, there is quite a bit it gets right. For example, the casting of Emily Blunt was a masterstroke. Every scene is made better for her being in it as she brings her joyous charm to the screen. On the flip side, Jesse Plemons absolutely nails the role of the weird German prince Joachim. I’ve found some of his character actor roles fall flat for me [see Game Night], when others thought he was excellent. So, I was always wondering what I was missing, well I see it here. As well as this, some of the scenarios they created for the film worked well, like the absurdity of a surprise U-Boat in the middle of the Amazon River. Jack Whitehall was not nearly as annoying as I expected him to be in his first introduction, but you do feel that Paul Giamatti was a bit wasted in this film.
When it comes to the visual effects that a lot of the film is based around, well, that is more of a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have some strong highlights throughout the film, like the development and implementation of Proxima (Ben Jenkin) and the bee/man hybrid Sancho (Dani Rovira). However, this is juxtaposed wildly with shots that completely pull you out of the film. For example, this is the first film that had me wonder if they comped in a CGI rope, or if the compositing into the scene was not given enough time, so it made an actual rope look fake. This is exasperated as the film progresses, and we move away from location shooting into more digital sets. There were also some tonal inconsistencies throughout the film, like Metalica’s Nothing Else Matters used as a musical queue. Unlike films like A Knight’s Tale that integrate those modern elements into an older setting as a deliberate style choice, here it just feels out of place, like it was a placeholder that someone forgot to remove.
Then comes the story, which is probably the biggest frustration in the film. Some elements of this film are clearly dictated by the fact that it is emulating the ride, okay, fine. Indeed Sea of Thieves just showed that you could pull this off in an engaging way. The opening introduction of Frank also worked quite well in this regard. But the narrative is harkening back to the pulp classic movie serials of the 1930s. Well, no. It is actually harkening back to the adventure films of the 1980s who were harkening back to the movie serials of the 1930s. But it takes all of those tropes and story beets you would expect but then engages with none of them critically. This is especially true in the depictions of the Indigenous people. While I am sure, it is probably better than their depiction in the original ride that opened in 1955. But this film uses ethnic cleansing as a backdrop, ignores the real-world setting it was positioning itself in, and wallows in the same tired colonialist topes that better films were contesting back in the 1980s. While it is not ‘white women progressive the movie’, it is much closer to that than it should have been in 2021.
In the end, do we recommend Jungle Cruise? Well, this is a film with many issues, like rehashing the same story and plot we have seen many times before. However, it is a film that is probably saved by some good casting. This means that it is at least watchable, if remarkably flawed.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Jungle Cruise
Directed by – Jaume Collet-Serra
Story by – John Norville, Josh Goldstein, Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Screenplay by – Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Based on –Walt Disney’s The Jungle Cruise
Music by – James Newton Howard
Cinematography by – Flavio Labiano
Edited by – Joel Negron
Production/Distribution Companies – Davis Entertainment, Seven Bucks Productions, Flynn Picture Company & Walt Disney Pictures
Starring – Emily Blunt, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Whitehall, Édgar Ramírez, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti, Veronica Falcón, Dani Rovira, Quim Gutiérrez, Dan Dargan Carter, Andy Nyman, Raphael Alejandro, Ben Jenkin, Pedro Lopez & Sulem Calderon
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13