Eighteen years ago, Disney struck box-office gold after they successfully turned their own ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ theme-park attraction into a lucrative film franchise led by Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. Looking to repeat the same feat, they adopt another one of their popular theme-park attractions into a big-screen adventure. And that theme-park attraction in question is ‘Jungle Cruise’, which has been a mainstay in Disneyland for over 65 years since its introduction back in 1955.
The big-screen version itself was originally set to be released on October 11, 2019, but was later postponed to July 24, 2020. Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened last year, forcing cinemas to shut down for months to curb the spread of the coronavirus. And just like most major Hollywood films that were slated for a 2020 release, ‘Jungle Cruise’ fell victim to the pandemic too. Now that the film is finally released not only in theaters but also on Disney+ via Premier Access, here lies an all-important question: Is ‘Jungle Cruise’ worth the wait after all the delay?
Well, I hate to say this but the film is surprisingly a disappointment. Considering this is Jaume Collet-Serra’s first foray into the big-budget studio picture, it should have been something worth looking forward to. Besides, this is the same Spanish-American filmmaker who gave us some of Liam Neeson’s most entertaining thrillers such as ‘Non Stop’ (2014) and ‘The Commuter’ (2018) as well as the gripping shark thriller ‘The Shallows’ (2016) starring Blake Lively.
Before we get to the things that go wrong in ‘Jungle Cruise’, here’s what the film is all about: Set in 1916 at the height of World War I, the story follows a scientist/explorer Lily (Emily Blunt) and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) on a quest to search for the magic flower capable of curing all kinds of illnesses. But she’s not the only one as a scheming German prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) happens to look for the same flower as well. In order to locate the flower, Lily hires a riverboat guide named Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to take them deep into the Amazonian jungle. From there, they face all sorts of troubles throughout their ride and of course, a lot of obligatory bickerings between Lily and Frank. And speaking of troubles, ‘Jungle Cruise’ also includes an obvious nod straight out from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, where they encounter undead Spanish conquistadors instead of pirates led by Edgar Ramirez as Aguirre.
Drawing inspirations from some of the most recognizable action-adventure films ranging from 1951’s ‘The African Queen’ to 1981’s ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and even 1999’s ‘The Mummy’ and of course, the aforementioned ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, ‘Jungle Cruise’ could have been a potentially great fun ride. But Collet-Serra could only muster a few sporadically entertaining moments, notably, a ladder scene that happens early in the film and another scene involving a riverboat navigating through the white water rapids. And given the fact that he’s been granted a huge US$200 million budget at his disposal, most of the CGI in this film either looks spotty or too obvious (Frank’s pet jaguar, Proxima immediately comes to mind). Even the Amazon jungle setting relies heavily on digital fakery, making almost everything here lacks the palpable — high-stakes scenario desperately needed for this kind of action-adventure film.
‘Jungle Cruise’ also runs too long at a little over two hours and it doesn’t help when the story — credited to Michael Green (‘Logan’, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’), Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (‘Bad Santa’, ‘I Love You Phillip Morris’) — is nothing more than a generic action-adventure that shamelessly rips off from other like-minded genre films. While ‘Jungle Cruise’ does take an unexpected turn halfway through the film, the element of surprise is rather short-lived as it continues to face a bumpy ride. A shorter length, say around 90-100 minutes top and a tighter pace would have been benefited the film more.
If there are any consolations worth mentioning in this film, at least Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson share great chemistry as an odd couple. They even reminded me of Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in 1984’s ‘Romancing the Stone’ and Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in ‘The Mummy’. Blunt is particularly a scene-stealer with her feisty turn as Lily. Jack Whitehall delivers a decent comic relief as Lily’s “wimpy” brother, MacGregor while Jesse Plemons’ villainous turn with a bizarre German accent as Prince Joachim has his few fun moments here. Too bad for Edgar Ramirez’s role as the leader of the undead Spanish conquistador and Paul Giamatti, who plays a harbormaster, are both sadly underused.
Read More: Will There be a Jungle Cruise Sequel?