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Jungle Cruise Review

July 29, 2021 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris
JUNGLE CRUISE
7.5
The 411 Rating
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Jungle Cruise Review  

Directed By: Jaume Collet-Serra
Written By: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa and Michael Green
Runtime: 127 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence

Dwayne Johnson – Frank Wolff
Emily Blunt – Lily Houghton
Jack Whitehall – MacGregor Houghton
Jesse Plemons – Prince Joachim
Edgar Ramírez – Aguirre
Paul Giamatti – Nilo
Veronica Falcón – Trader Sam
David Lengel – Boat Tourist

In the early aughts, Walt Disney Studios dedicated significant time and money into making big-screen adaptations based on iconic Disney Parks attractions. However, the results were largely execrable with such efforts as The Haunted Mansion and The Country Bears. Disney did manage to strike franchise gold with Pirates of the Caribbean in 2003, but other than that, attempts to translate theme park rides into cinematic franchises went largely dormant for Disney. That’s probably for the best. Does anyone really want It’s a Small World: The Movie? While Walt Disney Studios has focused a great deal of its live-action efforts into making theatrical remakes of its classic animated productions, the theme park-to-film adaptation finally gets another shot at bat with Jungle Cruise. While Jungle Cruise is not quite the homerun, one-punch knockout that Pirates was in 2003, it’s certainly a fun, rousing, throwback action-adventure story that definitely fulfills an old movie comfort food style.

The original Jungle Cruise attraction was one of the original rides at Disneyland when the park first opened in 1955, so there’s a lot of love and history behind this iconic river boat amusement. To the benefit of the new movie directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, that love for the classic ride is definitely imbued into the energy of the film.

As a cinematic experience, Jungle Cruise is cut from a similar cloth as the 1999 version of The Mummy and 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s a mix of comedy, action and adventure. Obviously, the template is similar to that set by Steven Spielberg with Raiders of the Lost Ark, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Jungle Cruise has a rousing sense of fun and adventure and good pacing that Collet-Sera maintains through the whole experience.

Set in 1916, MacGregor Houghton (Whitehall) pitifully attempts to secure funds from The Royal Geographical Society for an expedition to the Amazon River in order to search for the petals of the mythical “Tree of Life.” Houghton’s brilliant sister, Lily (Blunt), believes that when the tree’s petals (called Tears of the Moon) bloom, they can cure any illness or ailment and save millions of lives at time when Great Britain is in the midst of The Great War. When Houghton’s attempts fail, Lily manages a daring theft of a stored arrowhead from a previous expedition that could be the key to finding the tree and the Tears of the Moon. Unfortunately for MacGregor and Lily, they aren’t the only ones after the Tears of the Moon and the mystical arrowhead. Germany’s Prince Joachim (Plemons) also wants to secure the tree’s Tears for the nation of Germany to help them win the war.

After arriving in the Amazon, Lily and MacGregor meet the blue-collar jungle cruise tourist skipper, Frank Wolff (The Rock). Wolff is not always on the straight and narrow, but he’s good at what he does. Lily and MacGregor secure his services to get them to the Tree of Life’s location in the hopes of locating the Tears of the Moon, but Prince Joachim arrives on the Amazon River with his fully armed submarine. He’s even willing to awaken the long-lost conquistador Aguirre (Ramírez) and his minions from a cursed living death for assistance.

Clearly, Jungle Cruise is taking many familiar cues from past action-adventure movies. You have the cursed baddies in Aguirre and his conquistadors, a mission to find a mythical MacGuffinm, and of course, two attractive male and female leads who are destined to fall in love with each other. Despite all these familiar conventions, Jungle Cruise is executed quite well. Besides Collet-Serra’s boundless energy and strong pacing, Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt exhibit believable chemistry in their lead roles of Frank and Lily. Thankfully, they are allowed to have a cinematic romance here. Romances in these types of films were starting to become a dying breed so it’s nice to see a romance between two big movie stars play out in an action-adventure setting.

Jack Whitehall is a familiar comic relief type of character, but thankfully, he brings his own unique brand of charisma to MacGregor. Whitehall steels just about every scene he’s in, and he’s truly the highlight of this film.

The other highpoint of Jungle Cruise is Collet-Serra’s depiction of the Amazon River and its surroundings. It’s a beautifully realized, fantastical version of the Amazon that feels very immersive. It’s wild and dangerous, yet also mysterious, elegant and amazing. Many recent films are really failing on the immersion aspect of the cinematic experience, but Collet-Serra executes this very well.

Where the film has less success is some rather ugly, garish CGI. For example, Frank has a pet jaguar, Proxima, as his pet companion and sidekick. Proxima is realized with awful computer animation that looks even worse than some CG-animated features. Other CG elements in the film almost break the experience. After going back and looking at past attempts successful movies utilizing photorealistic animals created with CGI, it’s shocking how much worse CGI looks in big budget films today. There is absolutely no reason the CGI for the animals in Jungle Cruise should look worse or less convincing than the 1995 Jumanji movie, but that’s pretty much the case at this point. CGI can definitely be a beneficial tool to films, but it’s bizarre to see how the technique has regressed.

The other drawback to the film is Prince Joachim as the central antagonist. Jesse Plemons is a talented actor, but he’s playing a cartoonish, stereotypical German caricature here. He appears to be imitating Christoph Waltz, Werner Herzog and Peter Sellers’ Doctor Strangelove all at the same time, and it just doesn’t work very well. At times, Prince Joachim is amusing, but he doesn’t represent a very grave, significant or believable threat to the heroes. Even Christoph Waltz himself managed to play a more believable villain with more depth and edge in a pulpy action-adventure movie, The Legend of Tarzan.

After Aguirre and his cohorts are awakened, the movie gets a bit more of the menace it needs from the bad guys. Unfortunately, Aguirre is mostly marginalized in the film in favor of Prince Joachim. Basically, the film probably needed to play Aguirre as its central villain and have Joachim as more of a side comic relief character.

Elsewhere, the film has a couple of notable plot twists in the second half that make the story a bit too convoluted and overwrought. The Rock has already spoiled one of them on his Instagram account. While the plot twists raise the stakes, they add a bit too much more exposition to the plot than needed, and the narrative gets weighed down when it could do with some leaning out.

Regardless, Jungle Cruise is still an entertaining and fun film that fans of period action-adventure movies with a dash of romance will enjoy, along with fans of the classic Disney theme park attraction.

7.5
The final score: review Good
The 411
This isn't a film that breaks much new ground, but it is generally fun and entertaining to watch. It has fun leads, good pacing and beautiful, lavish scenery. Director Jaume Collet-Serra does very well in showcasing a beautiful, fantastical version of the Amazon Rainforest that looks impressive. That said, some of the other CGI throughout the film is very dodgy and decidedly lacking. Also, the villains could have been switched around to make the film a bit scarier and higher in the stakes. That said, this is a perfectly fun action-adventure film that the whole family can enjoy. Not to mention, it's filled with references and Easter eggs of the classic Disney attraction that theme park historians will appreciate.
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