Published on July 31st, 2021 | by Dan Nicholls0
Disney’s Jungle Cruise has its moments and its lead actors have some charisma, but it’s mostly buried beneath a generic plot and an oppressive runtime.
In a world where board games, action figures, and amusement park rides can become mega movie franchises, of course Disney is a master at milking any established IP dry. So in the spirit of “connected to the rides in name only, really” comes Jungle Cruise – a movie that wants to be Pirates of the Caribbean so bad you can feel the spirit of Jack Sparrow around every corner. It’s a 2-hour-plus, $200 million desperate grab for your cash but it doesn’t get itself to halfway worthwhile.
What we get is a big ol’ CG spectacle starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, two of the most charismatic leading actors in the world. Their only job here seems to be as charming as possible – and they succeed in doing that – but leaves you wanting some memorable characters to take home with you. Here he’s Frank, she’s Lily, and together they’re on a race down a jungle river to find the tree of life before a German Prince (Jesse Plemons) does first. And also the Amazonian jungle is possessed by the trapped spirits of Spanish conquistadors, because why not. As a bonus, we get a beginning featuring Paul Giamatti doing the most over-the-top Cuban accent he can muster. Giamatti clowning just makes you want to watch Big Fat Liar again, damn. Anyway, it’s a classic MacGuffin chase to find the tree that can break a curse and stop a war or something and also give everlasting life I think? The story isn’t on point here and the fun flourishes (Plemons in particular is having a blast) are few and far between.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra does what he can to keep things moving briskly, which is a saving grace when you know everything that’s about to happen before it happens. The chemistry between The Rock and Emily Blunt is undeniably fun to get caught up in, but their forced romance sort of just makes the whole thing feel weird. Maybe it’s just me, but The Rock pull off almost anything except romance. They shoulda kept it platonic and let these two let loose instead of constantly skirting around the edge of this unnecessary tension. There’s also one scene contains more sexual innuendo than a branded “family” flick probably should which actually makes you wonder just what family audience this is aimed at.
Sure you get a couple fun action sequences and you’re guided on this “seen it all before” trek by two magnetic hosts that give it their all. But is Jungle Cruise worth the return trip to the theater? Maybe in a solid IMAX setup it would’ve felt more special but there isn’t anything here you won’t enjoy just as much at home. It’s available on Disney+ with Premier Access at the same time as it opens in theaters, and it’s a far more economical choice for families needing that weekly fresh entertainment fix. This isn’t the type of mid-pandemic excursion into the world that’s worth dropping a couple hundo on.
Instead of making a movie that was basically a Pirates-meets-National Treasure knockoff, why not go the full way? I’m talking a Pirates movie starring an ancestor of Benjamin Gates as he travels exotic locations solving ancient riddles and mysteries and shit. You don’t even have to de-age Nicolas Cage, but it would help. Anyway, give me a call, Disney, and we’ll break the story better.