Jungle Cruise (2021) Review

THE ADVENTURES OF PANTS AND SKIPPY


 

In 2003, Walt Disney Studios struck cinematic gold with the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, a live-action movie that took the premise of one of their popular park attractions and made it into a full feature length film. The success of The Curse of the Black Pearl propelled the studio to launch both a franchise underneath the Pirates of the Caribbean series (combining a total of five films under its belt) and showed that the “House of Mouse” could make money of making cinematic movies that are based around other prime staples of their theme park attractions. In fact, Pirates of the Caribbean wasn’t the only (before or after its release) that saw Disney come up with this idea of adapting their theme park rides, with such examples of movie being released, including 2000’s Dinosaurs, 2002’s Country Bears, 2003’s Haunted Mansion, and 2015’s Tomorrowland just to name a few. Although, while those movies were adapted into cinematic representations, most were met with mixed reviews and moderate box office success, with Pirates of the Caribbean being the most lucrative and popular amongst moviegoers. Now, Walt Disney Studios and director Jaume Collet-Sera present the latest film to take theme park attraction from Disney for a feature length film endeavor with the release of Jungle Cruise. Is this one adventure worth going on or is it just another bland and bloated feature that doesn’t go anywhere?

 

THE STORY


The year is 1916 and Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) is a resourceful and spunky young woman, who is hunting for an ancient arrowhead that is connected to the fabled Tears of the Moon, a legend that depicts of a primordial tree with magical healing properties within its pedals. Joined by her brother, McGregor (Jack Whitehall), Dr. Lily secretly acquires the arrowhead, looking for a way down the Amazon River to find the location of the Tears of the Moon. To help navigate the maze-like waterways and dangerous jungle surroundings, Lily comes across Frank (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a seasoned skipper boat captain who promises safe passage through Amazon and to where the young explorer wants to go. Yet, despite his easy-going bravado, Lily soon finds out that Frank is kind of swindler, with the skipper is in deep with the wealthy harbormaster, Nilo Nemolato (Paul Giamatti), eager to collect the cash and return to the river. As Lily, McGregor, and Frank set out on the Amazon River, the trio is unaware that they are being pursed by Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), an ambitious German royal who’s also on the hunt for the Tears of the Moon, wanting to claim the magical properties and achieve unimaginable power. Unfortunately, in his ambition, Joachim unleashes Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez), a cursed Spanish conquistador recently freed from his Amazonian prison and caused havoc as all parties journey forth to find the Tears of the Moon; each one holding a different reason for acquiring the legendary item.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


It goes without saying that Disney has looked everywhere for “inspiration” for narrative storytelling within the cinematic realm. From popular bestsellers novels to “based on a true life” experiences, the “House of Mouse” has sort of left no stone unturned. This also comes in the form of their own attractions….as I mentioned above in my opening paragraphs. Naturally, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were the best and most lucrative success; finding many audience moviegoers (including myself) liking the misadventures of Jack Sparrow. That being said, I still think that the first Pirates movie was the best. Although, before I saw the first Pirates of the Caribbean movies, I do remember seeing 1997’s Tower of Terror, which is based on the classic Disney Park ride. I think I saw it on Disney Channel and, while it was just an okay movie (in general), it was actually my first movie that I saw of a film that is based on a Disney Park ride. The other movies that mentioned (Country Bears, Haunted Mansion, and Tomorrowland) were just kind of “meh” to me as they were just sub-par / mediocre endeavors that really didn’t amount to much. That being said, I actually did like 2000’s Dinosaur (the first seven minutes are amazing) as a sort of hidden gem / underrated releases from Disney. Overall, Disney is always trying to constantly reinvent itself to stay relevant in the modern age, so I think that the studio will continue to its on-going trends of turning their theme park attractions into feature length films.

This becomes more prevalent with the release of 2021’s Jungle Cruise, a fantasy adventure film released by Disney and the latest film to be adapted from one of their park rides. Originally opened in Disneyland back in 1967, the Jungle Cruise ride has expanded upon the various Disney theme parks across the globe. I personally experience the ride when I first went to Disney World when I was 11 and I liked it as I can see why it has become a “classic” of Disney theme park rides. Anyway, following the release of 2015’s Tomorrowland, which was considered a box-office flop, I thought that Disney wasn’t going to be invest resources to create another movie that is based on one of their park attractions. However, that idea was shattered when it was announced that Disney was going to be a movie that was based on the theme park ride of the same name. Then, it was later announced that actress Emily Blunt and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson were going to be headlining the project in the lead roles; both of which I like as acting talents and some of their previous endeavors. After that, the film’s movie trailer was released and showcased a promising feature, which felt a little reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean vibe, which is kind of good / intriguing them for me. So, it goes without saying that I was interested in seeing Jungle Cruise when it was originally going to be released on October 11th, 2019, before it was moved to July 24th, 2020. However, with the on-going effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney decided to delayed Jungle Cruise an entire year, releasing the movie on July 30th, 2021, in theaters and on Disney+ (with premium access). I decided to watch the movie on Disney and pay for the premium access fee to see it. However, my schedule for work got busy, so I delayed doing my review for this movie. That being said, I have a little free time and finally willing to share my thoughts on this live-action Disney movie. What did I think of it? Well, I liked it. Despite a few problems within its undertaking and execution, Jungle Cruise is still quite a fun and entertaining within its adventurous escapism that is bolstered by its two leads. The journey is quite overstuffed, but Blunt and Johnson are solid in the movie.

Jungle Cruise is directed by Jaume Collet-Sera, whose previous directorial works include such films like Non-Stop, Rum All Night, and The Shallows. Given his background of directing, Collet-Sera makes Jungle Cruise his first foray into the family movie night variety, and I do have to say that I am quite impressive with what he’s done with this movie. Yes, I was quite interested to see this project when it got released, but still had some reservations about it. However, a lot of those reservations were dismissed once I started watching the movie as the feature almost felt like a throwback fantasy-esque adventure movie from the late 90s / early 00s era of filmmaking. In fact, Jungle Cruise feels almost reminiscent to both 1999’s The Mummy and 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean, with a lot running around, daring escapes, chase sequences, and a few dark supernatural element sequences. Maybe that was the intention of Collet-Sera when he was approaching / shaping Jungle Cruise and if it was…. I fully embrace it. Heck, even the story is quite familiar and reminiscent of those two films, with the script handling by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, John Norville, and Josh Goldstein, and while is a bit problematic in the narrative handling, I think that the movie is that much more enjoyable, with Jungle Cruise having that nostalgic adventure blockbuster movie of the past rather than a more modern take on the classic Disney Park ride. I think its for that reason why I liked Jungle Cruise a bit more than the average moviegoers out there as I liked the idea of the feature having that “feeling” of a Pirates of the Caribbean motifs, aspects, and nuances rather than just a cheap knock-off.

Where Collet-Sera’s strength lies is in staging plenty of action sequences within the movie; interjecting excitement and danger in almost every corner where the main characters explore. That’s not to say the movie is all “action guts” as Collet-Sera sense character-built moments where they characters have time for dialogue driven scenes. Personally, I felt that this movie was a lot of fun to watch, branching its large-scale action scenes and blockbuster flair with great ease and has plenty of entertainment value from onset to conclusion. Plus, I felt that the comedy in the film was pretty good and (much like the film itself) has that “broad feeling”, with comedic jokes and gags that will generate a good number laughs from its viewers. In short, I think that Collet-Sera did a great job in the movie; finding Jungle Cruise to slightly imperfect (more on that below), yet still manageable to be a great viewing experience for a Disney-esque blockbuster adventure film.

In its presentation category, Jungle Cruise definitely feels like a Disney movie, with the studio going “all out” for the film’s production budget, which was roughly $200 million, and it definitely shows that. The expansive jungle of the Amazon and the maze-like river are a gorgeous backdrop in the film, with plenty of intricate detail and lush flora / fauna visuals for moviegoers to marvel over while watching the feature. Heck, even some of the regular set-pieces and layouts, including the Port Velho set looks amazing to see in the movie, with a lively sense of it been lived in for years. Perhaps the best design layout is found within Frank’s riverboat ship, which has that worn-down feeling / seeing better days look, but is filled with loads of detailed within its nooks and crannies along its decks and hulls. Thus, the film’s “behind the scenes” team, including Jean-Vincent Puzos (production designs), Larry Dias (set decorations), Paco Delgado (costume designs), as well as the entire art direction team for their efforts in making Jungle Cruise come alive in a very colorful, grounded, and visually appealing way. In addition, the cinematography efforts by Flavio Martinez Labiano are spot on, presenting some slick camera angles and views that help the feature’s cinematic “pop” beautifully. The only one downside is that, while the film’s visual aesthetic is quite pleasing and vivid, some of the CGI effect shots are a bit muddy and fall flat, lacking the cinematic punch of realism. However, that is just a minor quibble for me. Lastly, the movie’s score, which was composed by James Newton Howard, is terrific to listen to throughout the entire film, with the musical composition carrying that same pedigree of large-scale adventure themes and motifs as well as bombastic excitement. Definitely a fun soundtrack score to listen to!

Problems do arise within the movie that, while not terrible, do hold Jungle Cruise back from reaching the cinematic greatness of the blockbuster variety. How so? For starters, the movie is quite bloated and it kind of feels like that throughout the entire film. With a runtime of 127 minutes (two hours and seven minutes), the movie seems almost like the standard endeavor for a live-action feature film with a roughly two-hour runtime. However, there is a lot (and I do mean a lot) to unpack within Jungle Cruise, which causes the film to be quite bloated and overstuffed, with too much content and narrative-driven pieces. This is quite apparent in the film’s first act, which crams in a lot of content and creates a somewhat pace issue during this portion of the feature. In fact, it actual takes some time for Frank and Lily’s journey to begin on the Amazon River as there is character establishments, side-stories and tangents (several chasing and fighting sequences.) that the movie’s story path navigates through, which causes a problem for the film in general. This also carries over into the mythos and lore that Jungle Cruise has to offer. What’s presented is good (and definitely works), but it all feels quite overstuffed in the movie with not a whole lot of time to fully digest it all completely, which results in some parts being a bit clunky in its handling and mechanics of it all.

In addition to this, Jungle Cruise is, despite is fun adventurous premise, a bit on the predictable side. Yes, there is plenty daring escape and dangerous adventures that Collet-Sera and company stage and execute throughout the movie. However, a lot of it seems quite formulaic to the touch that it becomes almost a “comfort viewing experience” rather than exciting new ground. This makes Jungle Cruise feel quite predictable from start to finish, with script handling playing up the common tropes of total obvious foreshadowing dialogue lines / scenes and references. It’s definitely crystal clear to see of where the movie is heading and what its ultimate conclusion was going to be, which is a bit disappointing and leaves little room for surprises along the way. I kind of figured this was going to be the case earlier on (after watching roughly 15 minutes of the movie), so it didn’t upset me that much, but I do have feeling that some viewers will draw a hard criticism on the feature. Overall, I think that the movie could’ve been slightly better handled in its overall execution, with more adventures plot points, a little bit more pizzazz in its script, and just a bit more runtime to create a more balanced feature.

The cast in Jungle Cruise is quite good and delivers some solid acting across the board. Most of these characters are (by designed) presented in very “broad strokes”, so their characteristics are somewhat larger-than-life, which does fit into the film’s tone. This, of course, makes the acting talents involve have a more heightened viewing persona and this is clearly showing with the feature’s two main leads from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and actress Emily Blunt as Frank Wolff and Dr. Lilly Houghton. Johnson, who is known for his roles in Moana, Ballers, and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, has always been known for his large-than-life persona within his multiple of character roles he’s done over the recent years; demonstrating his acting chops of spot-on dialogue delivery (thanks to his days of professional wrestling) as well as making his theatrical screen presence known in the action hero realm. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Johnson is great in the role of Frank; finding a very easy rhythm in playing the character, with Johnson handling his lines well and providing the necessary action stunts and charismatic bravado when called upon. The role of Frank seems almost hand tailored for Johnson, in my opinion as it clearly visible from the moment you see him to final scene. Overall, I liked Johnson as Frank Wolff.

Likewise, Blunt, known for her roles in A Quiet Place, Mary Poppins Returns, and Into the Woods, has proven herself to be quite a capable action lead character in some recent endeavors (see A Quiet Place Part II and Edge of Tomorrow) as Jungle Cruise gives her the newest platform to perform, with the actress handling herself superbly in the role. To be sure, Blunt, like Johnson, has always been a likeable actress and comes off as such in Jungle Cruise; playing up the witty and charmingly headstrong persona of Dr. Lily beautifully. In fact, she definitely handles herself against a more charismatic bravado that Johnson is quite known for, which makes the screen time that much more enjoyable. As stated previously, the characters are presented in very broad strokes as such Blunt’s Lily is presented as one and, while there could’ve been deeper meaning to character, Blunt is up to the task and charges full steam ahead; producing a very memorable character.

In fact, both Johnson and Blunt are terrific when there both on-screen together, with Blunt going toe-to-toe with Johnson’s Frank in a lot of scenes, which makes for some great witty back-and-forth banter amongst the paring. In truth, I think Jungle Cruise wouldn’t be as good as it is without both of them in it. The movie is definitely designed around them, and it clearly shows that from the performances and their playful chemistry with each other. No matter what you think about Jungle Cruise (good or bad), the one constant positive that almost all will agree with is the great on-screen chemistry that both Johnson and Blunt have with each other throughout.

Of more secondary characters, Lily’s brother, MacGregor Houghton comes across a fun and the comical relief character in the film. Played by actor Jack Whitehall, who is known for his roles in Bad Education, Bounty Hunters, and Mother’s Day, the character of MacGregor is a comical snobbish and pampered individual, which makes for a lot of humorous parts throughout the feature. Additionally, the character has a deeper attempt of Disney trying to expand upon the horizon of today’s world gender / sexual orientation; which the company has been doing in the recent releases. It’s not over-the-top, but more of subtle one-liner and like a lot of these ideas…. I embrace it. Overall, I think that Whitehall did a great job in his portrayal of MacGregor, and it comes off as a perfect fit as the sort of “third wheel” character of the main characters. The other secondary character would be the somewhat villain of Jungle Cruise, with the character of Prince Joachim, an ambitious and mentally unstable German royal who (like the rest of the characters) is after the Tears of the Moon, but for world conquest / domination. Played by actor Jesse Plemons, known for his roles in Vice, Game Night, and Judas and the Black Messiah, the character of Joachim comes across as a sizeable yet somewhat goofy bad guy in the movie, which (like the film itself) fits perfectly well within the feature’s context, with Plemons playing up those strengths beautifully. He’s not the best live-action Disney villain, but he sure makes the film enjoyable.

The other villain in the movie would be Aguirre, a Spanish conquistador who once searched for the fabled Tears of the Moon and who is now cursed as an infested body of snakes. Played by actor Edgar Ramirez, who is known for his roles in Point Break, Gold, and Domino, Aguirre certain has that visual looking of an antagonist character and comes off in the way. I think that there could’ve been a bit more screen-time for the character, but I did like Ramirez in the role and does fit into the whole jungle adventure motifs as a cursed villain. Sadly, Aguirre’s fellow cursed conquistadors are reduced to more visual henchmen goons than sizeable threats. This includes Sancho, who is covered in honey and bees and who is played by actor Dani Rovira (Spanish Affair and Taxi to Treasure Rock), Melchor, who is composed of roots and tree branches and who is played by actor Quim Gutierrez (The Neighbor and The Last Days), and Gonzalo, who is made out of mud having poison dart frogs and who is played by stuntman Dan Dargan (Iron Fist and Luke Cage). Again, all are good respectfully and have that “visual” look like the undead pirates from the first Pirates of the Caribbean, but I wished that each one could’ve had more screen-time and better developed. Just feels like a missed opportunity.

The rest of the cast consists of smaller supporting players in the film, including actor Paul Giamatti (John Adams and Sideways) as the greedy harbormaster Nilo Nemolato, actor Andy Nyman (Ghost Stories and Judy) as Royal Society’s member Sir James Hobbs-Coddington, actress Veronica Falcon (Queen of the South and Ozark) as Trader Sam, and stunt actor Ben Jenkins does the body motion work for Frank’s jaguar Proxima. Collectively, these individuals are mostly minor characters in the movie as most of the focus is put on Johnson and Blunt. However, these acting talents are up to task and do perform well in their respective roles. No problems to complain about from me and I think many others the same.

FINAL THOUGHTS


All search for the Tears of the Moon, but only one can claim its mystical prize. Through rough waterways and native dangers, Dr. Lily, her brother, and Skipper Frank journey deep within the Amazon River and evade those who pursue them in the movie Jungle Cruise. Director Jaume Collet-Sera’s latest film takes the classic Disney Park attraction and reframes it for a cinematic representation; brining a sense of daring adventure and fantasy-esque thrills for the whole family to enjoy. While the movie does struggle in being predictable and being overstuffed at times, the film itself is still entertainingly fun with a sense large-scale silly adventure and heroics, visual presentation (production, design, setting, costumes, etc.), a solid score, and enjoyable cast, especially Johnson and Blunt. Personally, I liked this movie. Yes, it was a bit conventional in its script handling / story progression as well as some wonky parts, but I thoroughly enjoyed the film and was quite entertaining through that cinematic escapism. As I said earlier, if you’re a fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies or of 1999’s The Mummy, Jungle Cruise might be up your alley. Thus, my recommendation for this film is a solid “recommended” as the movie offers plenty of fun, amusement, and distraction to get lost in in pure summer popcorn flick fashion. There are some talks / rumors of a Jungle Cruise 2 already in the works and I do welcome the idea. In the end, Jungle Cruise, while flawed in some places, is still a fun and adventurous blockbuster romp that is worth your time to see; offering thrills, laughs, and big movie time escapism that something that only the “House of Mouse” can pull off. It doesn’t surpass the Pirates of the Caribbean movie as the best film adaptation of a Disney park attraction, but it is a close second in my opinion.

4.0 Out of 5 (Recommended)

 

Released On: July 30th, 2021
Reviewed On: August 31st, 2021

Jungle Cruise  is 127 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for sequences for adventure violence