Jungle Cruise is the latest live-action release from Disney studios and stars Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Edgar Ramirez, and Jesse Plemons. Based on Walt Disney’s theme park ride of the same name, the film follows riverboat captain, Frank Wolff (Johnson), Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt), and her brother MacGregor (Whitehall), on a mission into the depths of the Amazonian jungle to find the ‘Tree of Life’, which is believed to possess healing powers that could revolutionize modern medicine.
Their journey down the river comes with more than the usual challenges as the trio must fight off not only the deadly elements but wild animals, avenging conquistadors, and a competing Imperial German expedition that is determined to find the tree first.
“You booked a river cruise and you can’t swim? The price just went up.”
Co-stars, Johnson and Blunt develop strong chemistry from the start and the film benefits the most when the two bounce off one another. Comparisons to Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz’s relationship in The Mummy jump out of the screen, as Frank’s wild, rough and ready persona clashes with the educated, strong-minded, and often stubborn Lily.
Blunt delivers the strongest performance of the film, as she brings her own unique style to the role, creating a character full of charm, humor, and independence (there is no damsel in distress in this one). Lily may be the closest thing we have seen to a female Indiana Jones, even though the actress herself admits she doesn’t like the pressure that comes with that compliment.
Johnson brings his usual charismatic presence to the role, and his larger-than-life persona is felt throughout, but his proven action credentials felt underutilized for most of the runtime. He shines most in the comedic scenes, with a plethora of puns and one-liners. Whitehall rounds off the trio with an uneven performance – sometimes humorous but often feeling like a distraction. He is involved in some of the film’s funnier moments but for the most part, his character feels like an afterthought.
Jesse Plemons and Edgar Ramirez are tasked with bringing Jungle Cruise a formidable foe, but sadly neither fully deliver on this. Plemons’ WW1 German general feels very cartoony throughout, and although Ramirez’s Conquistador certainly has an intimidating and creepy look to him, the character falls short of adding an overwhelming sense of dread.
“Everything that you see wants to kill you… and can.”
Director Jaume Collet-Serra brings this world to life with gorgeous visuals and creative world-building. The costume and set design are stunning, and there are many different assorted characters who help fill out this journey. You can see why his direction has gained favor with Johnson and his Seven Bucks Production team, who have brought him on board to direct the upcoming Black Adam film.
Disney productions have become infamous for their strong CGI work, both in animation and live-action, but Jungle Cruise really suffers in this department. Many scenes look like something from a cartoon and this really affects the viewing experience. One can only speculate that a rush in production caused such a drop-off in quality, as otherwise, the film looks very impressive.
The film has a very classic look and feel to it, which deserves to be acknowledged, but it also suffers for trying to be too many different things. Homages to past classics in the genre are very evident but the film tries to take too much from them and doesn’t do enough to create something unique.
Jungle Cruise has all the ingredients to make a classic genre film but never fully realizes any of them. It is driven by the chemistry of its leads and works as a fun-packed family adventure, full of awe and wonder, that will certainly provide some much-needed escapism for all, but falls short in many other areas. The performances are committed, the comedy is effective, and the action sequences deliver some thrills – but don’t come as often as they should. Jungle Cruise tries its very best to live up to the classics of this genre but falls victim to not forging its own path.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.
Jungle Cruise is out in cinemas now, and available to stream on Disney Plus Premier Access. Check out the trailer below.
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