Film Review: Jungle Cruise
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Davis Entertainment, Seven Bucks Productions and Flynn Picture Company
In Theaters and Streaming on Disney+ Premium 07.30
There’s been a lot of talk over the past year over the future of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and whether or not it can or should be done without Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. In many ways, Jungle Cruise seems to be Disney’s attempt to test those waters. It’s a mostly successful attempt at that.
Intrepid researcher Dr. Lily Houghton Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place, Mary Poppins Returns) travels from London, England, with her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall, Good Omens, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms) to the Amazon jungle. She enlists the services of riverboat Skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Hobbs & Shaw) to guide her on a Jungle Cruise downriver on La Quila, his ramshackle boat vessel that is a first cousin of the African Queen, the Black Pearl and the Millenium Falcon. Lily is determined to uncover an ancient tree with unparalleled healing abilities—possessing the power to change the future of medicine.
Thrust on this epic quest together, the intrepid trio encounters innumerable dangers. They include wild animals, a competing Imperial German expedition led by the deranged Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemmons, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Judas and the Black Messiah) and even supernatural forces, all lurking in the deceptive beauty of the lush rainforest. But as the secrets of the lost tree unfold, the stakes are even higher for Lily and Frank, and their fate—and mankind’s—hangs in the balance.
Jungle Cruise owes even more to the 1999 version of The Mummy than it does to Pirates of the Caribbean, but as far as the latter is concerned, while it doesn’t reach the “lightning in a bottle” levels of popcorn entertainment greatness of The Curse of the Black Pearl, it comes much closer to it than most of the sequels ever did. The movie works just well enough to deliver on its intentions most of the time. Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, The Shallows) who has been at a hit-or-miss filmmaker—The Shallows hit, and everything else he’s done has missed—struggles a bit with rhythms and pacing, and the grandiose score by James Newton Howard often feels just a little bit off, but Johnson and Blunt are having a blast, and it’s hard not feed off of their energy.
Those who have experienced the Jungle Cruise theme park attraction at Disneyland will find a lot of familiar fun, right down to “dad jokes” that make you smirk and roll your eyes at the same time. Whitehall is likable, and some genuinely daring choices are made with his character to the point that it will be one of the most talked about of the summer.
It’s too bad the same can’t be said of the villains, as Plemmons—reduced to playing off the one-noted, mugging Édgar Ramírez (Joy, Wasp Network, Yes Day)—is completely wasted, as is Paul Giamatti, who seems to be making “Why was he even in that movie?” his new calling card. A lot of the visual effects are really phenomenal, especially the jungle cat, Proxima. Although, a lot of the river sequences were shot using blue screens and have that same uncanny quality that was so prevalent in the last third of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
Jungle Cruise is a bit of a bumpy ride, but the lighthearted sense of adventure overcomes all obstacles to make for a solidly enjoyable summer movie. There’s a sense of enthusiasm that keeps the vessel on course. As long as you keep your expectations within reason, the whole family should have a great time. –Patrick Gibbs