|Title: Jungle Cruise
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Édgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti
Movie length: 2 hours 7 minutes
What it is: A movie based on the Disney ride of the same name. The movie takes place during World War I and sees a riverboat captain played by Dwayne Johnson as he transports Emily Blunt as a British scientist and her brother on a jungle cruise in an attempt to find the Tree of Life.
What Dan thought: As a huge fan of the Disneyland ride of the same name, I’ve been anxiously waiting to see this movie since the presentation at D23 Expo 2019. That being said, the movie does not disappoint for the most part (which I’ll get to later). The shots of the river and jungle were gorgeous, and the action scenes were typical for what one would expect from a movie starring Johnson. Also there are quite a few references to the ride that anyone who has been on it more than a few times would catch.
Going into the movie I wasn’t sure what to think of Dwayne Johnson as a riverboat captain at first, but he did a great job (and even delivered a few lines that the Disney ride Captain’s would be proud of), and Emily Blunt as the female lead proved she can go head to head with Johnson when it comes to action. Jack Whitehall as the effeminate brother of Blunt’s Dr. Lily Houghton was also good in his role, but a certain trope was used on his character, which could have been changed. The supporting actors group included both Jesse Plemons and Paul Giamatti both of whom I thought were underused, Giamatti especially.
For what I didn’t like in the movie, having a German as the main villain seems overdone at this point. Also using Metallica song for a certain scene seemed very out of place (you’ll know when you hear it…).
Dan’s Grade: B-. Aside from a few minor issues I talked about above, the movie was a great 2 hour or so break from all the craziness going on in the world right now, and one I definitely wouldn’t mine seeing again.
What Alanah thought: For fans of the Disneyland ride of the same name, Jungle Cruise has come to theaters for you. In a familiar but fun film, we follow two well-to-do siblings and a sketchy boat owner on an adventure into the Amazon, complete with piranhas, hippos, and the 8th Wonder of the World – the backside of water.
Jungle Cruise offers us the first real imaginative creature-feature we’ve gotten from Disney since Pirates of the Caribbean. With Spanish Conquistadors turned into undead tropical critter-swarms, this film is the first time in a long while that Disney has moved to construct something brand new, something we’ve never seen before, and the effects absolutely land. The best part of this movie is easily how polished it looks. Or rather, it would be the best part, if it weren’t for the immediately dynamic duo of Emily Blunt and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and this reviewer would like an immediate order of 1 buddy-cop, 2 road-trip, and 3 rom-com movies starring these two, please, ASAP.
That being said, Jungle Cruise is far from perfect, and largely feels like a mixed bag, even if it is fun. Lily (Blunt) is adorable, albeit a bit too perfectly coifed in every scene. Frank (Dwayne Johnson) is as expected – decent acting chops, overflowing charisma, and impressive physicality. Some of the dialogue is painful or forced, and Johnson doesn’t quite sell all the puns he spouts. He never quite nails the sardonic and self-deprecating quality that any Jungle Cruise skipper really needs. Even so, the chemistry between the two leads is electric on the screen, and I would love to see them paired up again in another movie. Unfortunately, Paul Giamatti is absolutely wasted in a bit role that doesn’t do much as Frank’s greedy boss, but I’m not upset at the idea that Disney may be courting him for a larger future role in the Mouse House Family. Here’s to fingers crossed that we may someday see Giamatti in the MCU!
It’s necessary to mention that this film does feel largely derivative of Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy, starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. It only narrowly escapes being a carbon copy, when you asses its parts: the similar era, an opening scene with the British female lead wreaking comedic havoc on a rolling library ladder, an effeminate and high maintenance British brother with a heart of gold tagging along, a brash but capable male lead, a hate-to-love dynamic between the leads, a river boat ride, a supernatural but historic threat, undead bad guys, a treasure hunt with a foreign team competing to find it first, resurrection from the dead, and the destruction of a hidden city in Act 3. That said, what works about this is that the movie Jungle Cruise imitates is pretty damn near perfect, so it’s not a surprise to me that this copycat adventure lands, emotionally.
Speaking of emotion, you can’t walk away from this flick without having some serious questions about odd music cues. It seems a totally bizarre choice to have “Nothing Else Matters” reimagined by Metallica and James Newton Howard, and to have it play over a scene that isn’t even thematically charged but was expository and explanatory. It wasn’t an emotional moment, but for some reason we had anachronistic but orchestrated metal music over it? Very weird. I think there was a bit of inspiration somewhere there to lead the choice, but it seems like an incomplete thought or a misfire, not a successful expression of artistry.
In examining other not-quite-successful aspects, I would submit that Disney should exercise some deliberate care as they move forward with developing their side characters, especially when it comes to tokenism and representation. MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) has a tender and lovely scene with Frank, where he describes being ostracized and judged for his homosexuality, and it lands very well. However, Disney only manages not to bury their gay character in this entry by instead making him an overt coward throughout the piece. Eventually, McGregor gives up vital information to the enemy when threatened. It’s not my favorite M.O. for representation – I expect a bit more than existence and the ability to throw a good punch for a character to work. Hopefully they’ll give MacGregor a boyfriend in the inevitable sequel.
For parents looking to bring the whole family to this summer flick, a word of mild caution. If you or your child are afraid of insects or arachnids, stay away. Or, if you happen to be someone who hates snakes, this movie is probably not for you. There are some truly gnarly close ups of spiders and scorpions, more than one, snakes, ants, a man made out of bees, a man made of snakes, and a man made out of other creepy crawly cockroaches and centipedes. This might be a non-issue, but it’s worth noting for the little ones and the not-so-little ones with phobias.
Overall, this is a great summer flick that brings the fun, even if it loses the plot now and then. I enjoyed it, laughed out loud more than once, and the visuals are fantastic.
Alanah’s Grade: C+
Check out our own Darren Shulman’s audio review of the movie here: https://anchor.fm/darren-shulman/episodes/Jungle-Cruise-Review-e1575a5/a-a5tqa9p
Jungle Cruise will premiere on Disney+ with Premier Access and in theaters on July 30th.
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