Review: 'Jungle Cruise' (2021) Dir. Jaume Collet-Serra
In the footsteps of 'Pirates Of The Caribbean', we see another feature film based on a Walt Disney theme park attraction that boasts big stars and the promise of big adventure...
A fabled Tree Of Life is said to be hidden away deep in the Amazon jungle. The tree holds powerful healing attributes that could help revolutionise modern medicine, especially just two years into World War One.
Scientist Lily Houghton (Blunt) and brother MacGregor (Whitehall) have the clues needed to find the tree, but need passage up the dangeorus Amazon; they find an over-confident, sardonic but good-hearted skipper in steamboat Captain Frank "Skipper" Wolff (Johnson).
The group must not only contend with the dangers of the jungle, but also German forces led by aristocrat Prince Joachim (Plemons) and deadly Conquistador Aguirre (Ramírez), both who want the tree for their own nefarious gains...
Based on the Jungle Cruise ride of the same name at Walt Disney World, very little of the ride itself actually makes it into this finished film or feels like it offers influence, bar the fact a steamboat is used to traverse a dangerous jungle river. But pad out a seven minute ride for just under two hours with family-friendly Disney adventure with big-name stars, and you have an easy, entertaining watch. Just be sure to go in with any young viewers prepared for a sometimes scary and loud final act. Yes it's Disney, but Disney are always good at providing some shocks and creepy villains in their films, and this is no different!
Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt are a great pair for Disney; well respected and passionate actors in the industry, giving their all for any character, scene or story. Blunt carries on her Mary Poppins Returns magic with a charm and style that you can't help but find irresistable as a leading lady in these adventures, while Johnson again can deliver the quick-wit, heart and snark when needed but always being someone you can't help find fun. Even his Dad jokes always raise a chuckle. The relationship between Johnson and Blunt is fun and prickly, but at times it feels as if the constant use of nicknames and eye rolling romantic attraction are pushed too far and ever really needed?
Jack Whitehall plays another LGBTQ Disney character that, insead of making the sexuality part of his character as others do, he is forced to hide it behind hidden meanings and camp actions, further making these "bold claims" of LGBTQ representation more eye-rollingly bad when they're so obviously still shrouded. However, his character doesn't convey the style of comedy his UK material offers, and he fits in well alongside Blunt and Johnson with the stiff-upper lipness of a well meaning Brit.
Supporting cast including Paul Giamatti and Jesse Plemons play up their dastardly roles, but don't get much chance to do anything other than be a silly inconvenience and pop up only to add a break in the narrative.
And as for basing a major film on a ride, it only really uses the name. Unlike the Pirates of the Caribbean films, there world of what encapsulates the ride isn't really explored here, and there seems to be more of the dark magic, fantasy and swashbuckling action from POTC than anything else. Especially as some un-dead villains evoke the great Davy Jones.
The production is clear and cut Disney. A frantic, bombastic and swasbuckling score by James Newton Howard (and Metallica!) that conveys fantasy, mischeif and daring-do, almost as a supporting character as must as the human cast since it plays such a big part in the on-screen emotion and excitement. There is also a big emphasis on keeping the action big, bold and as family friendly as possible with little blood and gore, but still a few jump scares to keep the heart beating (and characters still say "Oh my gosh!" in perilous situations).
Sadly, it's downfall is the large use of CGI. While submarines firing torpedoes in narrow river bends blowing up ports do require use of computer help, it soon gets hard to believe anything we see is real! There is a computer aided gloss to most of the locations off the steamboat, and even all of the animals and other jungle additions seem to be mostly CGI. Less is more, but when we are surrounded by these creations and physcics defying actions, the thrills and investment is always reduced when it's so simple to see animation over practical effects or ideas.
That being said, at least the Amazon looks rich, bold and vibrant.
Still, Jaume Collet-Serra as director channels a clear notion with this - provide a wild, fun escapist film that channels the adventure, fantasy and humour of similar films that have come before with stories based on ancient lore and fantasy.
Jaume Collet-Serra delivers a fun, if shallow, film that channels standard Disney adventure, heart and humour in a story wrapped up in ancient lore, fantasy and magic.
'Jungle Cruise' is a co-production between Walt Disney Pictures, Davis Entertainment, Seven Bucks Productions and Flynn Picture Company