July 30, 2021 Jungle Cruise (Movie Review)
Blockbusters are finally back! On July 30th, Disney releases Jungle Cruise in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access. Dwayne Johnson (Walking Tall 2004, Moana 2016), Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow 2014, A Quiet Place 2018), Jack Whitehall (Mother’s Day 2016, Good Omens series), and Jesse Plemons (Battleship 2012, The Irishman 2019) star in this Adventure Comedy based on the iconic Disney theme park ride. Director Jaume Collett-Serra (Orphan 2009, The Shallows 2016) may hope to make Jungle Cruise its newest hit film franchise, but can it measure up to the tried and true fan favorites?
Jungle Cruise is certainly not the first time Disney turned a ride into a franchise, but unfortunately, this is no Pirates of the Caribbean. It takes cues from Pirates of the Caribbean, sure, especially in its Fantasy-leaning plot. It tries to toss in some flavor of Indiana Jones and The Mummy, but like many recent Disney films, Jungle Cruise is something of a camel. In trying to please everyone, the film never finds that unique charm that made those other franchises so successful. Even so, Jungle Cruise has plenty to offer viewers, especially those familiar with the ride. It is important to note that the original Jungle Cruise ride dealt with its fair share of scrutiny and is currently undergoing a revamp that will remove racially insensitive stereotypes. The film tries to circumvent these known stereotypes with humor, making sure to retain the dad jokes that Disney-goers know and love.
Taking place during the height of WWI, pants-wearing Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt) and her fashion-forward brother MacGregor (Whitehall) leave London for the Amazon in search of a mystical tree with extraordinary healing abilities. Things go awry when the two hire charming, conniving skipper Frank Wolff (Johnson). The unlikely trio discovers that the jungle is filled with untold dangers, some of which have followed them from London. What ensues is an action-packed adventure full of surprises that takes advantage of what Disney does best: fun.
Jungle Cruise would not be nearly as fun without its stars, of course. Johnson and Blunt have a terrific on-screen chemistry that in itself makes the film worth the price of admission. Perpetual villain Plemons is hilarious as the overzealous German Prince Joachim that steals every scene he’s in. The real showstopper, however, might be Whitehall, who is both comic relief and endearing kid-brother type. He is also another of Disney’s recent attempts at adding in queer characters, and he plays this as well as the script will allow without falling into harmful stereotypes.
Once again Disney does the bare minimum in terms of LGBT+ representation, but even this small scene is more than they have given in any previous film. It’s a small, meager step forward that is better than nothing but still barely something. Of course, the two main characters are forced into a romance that does not feel necessary. It works fine only thanks to Johnson and Blunt’s on-screen chemistry but comes off as a shoe-horned plot point to please the masses. If anything, the romance cheapens the character’s final achievements, but it is to be expected in just about any Disney offering.
With that in mind, Jungle Cruise still manages to pack a ton of story into its two-hour runtime. This both helps and hurts. Some of the twists are genuinely unexpected, while its more formulaic points can drag, particularly in the final act. Jungle Cruise is an obvious cash-grab for the media conglomerate, but in spite of its shortcomings, Jungle Cruise is one of the best Disney live-action offerings in recent memory. For these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this film 3.5 out of 5 stars.