Jungle Cruise's Charm & Sense of Adventure Keeps the Film Afloat
Brandon Zachary
Jungle Cruise Poster Header
Jungle Cruise Poster Header
Directed by The Shallows' Jaume Collet-Serra, Jungle Cruise is the latest adaptation of a Disney Parks ride into a feature film. Thanks to the film's palpable sense of fun and its effortlessly charming cast, Jungle Cruise is an engaging tale that's a lot closer to the hit Pirates of the Caribbean film than say the critical and commercial failure of The Country Bears.
During the early stretch of World War I, the adventurous botanist Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) quests to find a mythical tree whose petals are rumored to heal any wound. Alongside her sheltered younger brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), and hoping to find the petals to change the face of medicine, Lily journeys to a South American jungle. They then recruit the shrewd boat captain and tour guide Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to lead them. But, they aren't the only ones after the petals. The dangerous German Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) is chasing them too and his attempts to reach the tree first unleashes Aguirre (Édgar Ramírez), a deadly supernatural figure with a surprising connection to their expedition.
Jungle Cruise reteams Collet-Serra with his frequent cinematographer Flavio Martínez Labiano. The pair excel when the film is more grounded, but struggle to find a balance in the film's later, CGI-heavier sequences. This is a shame because earlier sections of the movie find a deft blend of action and comedy that works well. Blunt is especially impressive in these stretches of the film, giving Lily an edge like Indiana Jones while still making her a somewhat scrambling adventurer. In fact, a lot of the movie relies on Blunt and Johnson's chemistry and charm, which certainly helps elevate the movie. The pair bounce off each other with ease, developing a quick rapport that jumps from comedic to romantic to dramatic when needed.
Although the film can sometimes lose sight of the narrative thanks to extended running gags, the pair are able to keep the audience's attention thanks to their natural skills as comedic actors and action stars. The rest of the cast is likewise talented, if comparatively underutilized. Plemmons is a blast as the cartoonish German villain. Veronica Falcón is fantastic in her brief appearance as Trader Sam. Whitehall gets a small showcase for a surprisingly straightforward moment of LGBT recognition that, sadly, is somewhat countered by the more foppish elements of the character. However, Whitehall does give his character enough agency and emotional heft to make him work overall. Less successful is Paul Gimanti as Frank's rival Nilo, a potentially great wild card who ends up only appearing in brief sections of the film.
Jungle Cruise
Jungle Cruise
It's difficult to talk about Aguirre's role in the narrative without spoiling the film's bigger twists, but, he adjusts himself well to the role despite the heavy CGI elements of the character. While the film's direction can become muddled in the CGI-heavier action scenes, it's worth noting that the designs of Aguirre and his allies are a visual highlight of the film -- giving the movie a memorable host of visually interesting enemies for Johnson and Blunt to face.
While the script of Jungle Cruise can feel unbalanced, it's an undeniably fun film with the entire cast -- especially Johnson -- throwing themselves into its punnier elements. The call-outs to the original ride are fun, and the movie features enough clever subversions of the genre to more than make up for its cliche elements. While it may not be a perfect film, it's a thoroughly enjoyable summer blockbuster. Even if it has flaws, the infectious charm of the film should be enough to get audiences on board with Jungle Cruise.
Jungle Cruise is based on Disney Parks' classic attraction of the same name. The film is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, and along with Blunt, stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Whitehall and more. It will arrive in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access July 30.