Jungle Cruise (2021)
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Writers: Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, John Norville, and Josh Goldstein
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramirez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti
Plot: A group of explorers go on an adventure down the Amazon river in search of a petal that could revolutionize medicine.
Review: In the Disney Parks, there are only two possible paths for attractions not based on existing, money making IP. You either become a huge blockbuster franchise yourself (Pirates of the Caribbean) or you bomb and an IP takes over your ride (Country Bears, now home to the Winnie the Pooh attraction in Disneyland). Basically, there are some huge shoes to fill. And now it’s Jungle Cruise’s turn to attempt the impossible and replicate the magic of the Pirates franchise. Does it succeed? Kinda. But, by trying to be so much like its successful predecessor, it also ends up falling just a tad short.
But, let’s start off with the stuff I did like about Jungle Cruise first, because my overall impression of this movie is quite good. First of all, I thought it really captivated the spirit of the attraction and all of Adventureland quite well. It often felt like those big, bold adventure films that they don’t really make anymore. The kind of stuff that Indiana Jones was paying tribute to. It’s just a whole lot of fun with it’s big action set pieces, determined characters, and beautiful, exotic locations. And, like the attraction, it’s very funny. There are, of course, a ton of puns: some you’ll recognize from the ride, others are brand new. And, the movie was very good at playing to our expectations for jungle adventure clichés. Whether it’s how the explorers interact with nature or our relations with native cultures, the movie was always very good at turning what we know on it’s head a bit.
Then, finally, I really liked the casting work done here. Everyone who’s ever been on the Jungle Cruise knows that your experience is only as good as your skipper. In that case, we’re in very good hands here because The Rock kills it. He’s one part Indiana Jones and one part Mysterio from Far From Home. He is a brave and talented skipper, but also bluffs a bit to make himself seem even more badass. But what really sells the character is Johnson’s tremendous amount of charisma. It’s almost impossible not to like the guy and this role more than any other really leans into that. In fact, I think this might be my favorite live action role he’s had to date. It just fits him like a glove. Emily Blunt was also put into a role that fit her perfectly. She’s more or less the actual Indiana Jones in this movie. She’s super smart, kind to those who deserve it, and a bit of a badass who’s willing to stand up to the patriarchy in charge of their adventuring guild. I would not be surprised if she’s listed among the strong female characters like Hermione and Black Widow within a couple years. And speaking of representation, this is the first time I think Disney has done an even decent job at LBGTQ+ representation. While the character is a bit of a stereotype and they never quite commit to his gayness, I still enjoyed Jack Whitehall’s character quite a bit. He was prim, proper and a little whiny but still able to hold his own when it mattered. So, like I said, maybe not the best still, but baby steps. Disney is getting there.
So, I was very much enjoying Jungle Cruise. I remember thinking things like “This is the best Indiana Jones movie we’ve had in years” and “This is almost as good as Pirates.” But, then, there was a bit of a shift. Towards the middle of the movie, they really start leaning into the formula that made the first Pirates of the Caribbean work and then drive the sequels into the ground. We get a band of villains who were cursed for their misdeeds and are now stuck doing the same thing for all of eternity. And to make things worse they’re lead by a CGI guy with snakes coming out of his face… not entirely different from Davy Jones. It feels very been there, done that. Especially when you realize they’re both based on Disney Parks attractions. It’s like they didn’t know how to make a plot so just leaned on what worked before. (Honest Trailers is going to have a field day with this. I can already tell.) But, it also takes away from the solid adventure story they were telling. The best adventure movies only hint at things like curses and ghosts. The more they lean into it, the worse the movie gets. The same goes here. Plus, the CGI on the villains just wasn’t believable at all. I wanted to really, really like this movie, but as it progressed it reminded me less of Indiana Jones 1-3 and more of Pirates of the Caribbean 2-5.
Oh, and while I thought the cast had great chemistry, I did not buy the love story for a second. It felt very forced. But maybe that’s just more of the been there, done that of it all.
I do recommend Jungle Cruise though. Overall, it’s a very fun movie. There are some bits and pieces that feel familiar and/or don’t quite work, but I think the stellar cast, humor, and sense of adventure more than make up for it. While I wouldn’t put it in the same boat (pun intended) as Pirates, I would say this is easily the second best movie based on a Disney ride. And if they made sequels or other ride based movies of this quality I wouldn’t be upset at all. Though I will be mildly upset if every one follows this same formula so closely.
TL;DR: Jungle Cruise is a slightly familiar adventure film with a fun cast and an infectious sense of adventure.
Score: 7/10 (Good)