Premise: Based on Disneyland’s theme park ride where a small riverboat takes a group of travelers through a jungle filled with dangerous animals and reptiles but with a supernatural element.
Jungle Cruise, Disney’s latest film based on one of its theme park rides desperately wants to be the mouse house’s next Pirates of the Caribbean style box office juggernaut. Unfortunately, the film fails on this endeavor almost every step of the way. Whether it’s jumping from contrived set piece to contrived set piece, or in the uninspired and incessant bickering among the film’s central triumvirate (not to mention the utter lack of romantic chemistry in its leads), Jungle Cruise just doesn’t work as a complete experience.
Botanist Lily (Emily Blunt) and her snooty but charming brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) enlist the help of Frank (Dwayne Johnson), a pun spewing riverboat tour guide, to take them to the whereabouts of an ancient secret that could unlock medical marvels heretofore never seen. Along the way, there’s some of your standard supernatural curse revelations and villainy that comes into play. But at the end of the day, Jungle Cruise is as run of the mill as any other Disney adventure film that’s come before it. The total lack of chemistry among the cast and extremely lifeless dialogue also makes Jungle Cruise a marathon to get through with your full attention intact.
Dwayne Johnson has a proven track record as an entertaining action star who can elevate a forgettable movie to something at least slightly memorable (Skyscraper, for one, comes to mind). However, Jungle Cruise quickly proves to be an insurmountable mess that Johnson simply can’t improve with his charm. For one, Frank’s whole shtick is to embody the one-dimensional, roguishly quippy know-it-all caricature. It’s a shtick that gets old incredibly fast and rarely, if ever, translates to onscreen chemistry or charming banter between him and Blunt. It’s not necessarily the case that Johnson can’t pull off the “Han Solo” imitation the script calls for, but it’s simply so lazily written and so blatant a copy/paste job from the Star Wars playbook that no performance could have helped it.
The lazy writing is pervasive throughout the film, but one prime example has to do with Frank and Lily’s banter. Jungle Cruise is set in the early days of World War I and upon embarking on their voyage, Frank notices Lily is making the unladylike fashion choice of wearing pants. So Frank keys in on that by referring to her as Pants throughout the entire film. Lily’s rejoinder is to call him Skippy, much to his chagrin. The frequency with which this back and forth is revisited with nary an alteration is forced, repetitive, and does not translate to entertainment, much less chemistry.
Another instance of mismanagement in Jungle Cruise’s storytelling is the lack of build up toward character reveals and backstories. When we’re introduced to Frank, he’s established as a struggling tour guide who owes money to a big shot who takes the job with the promise of his debts being cleared with the payment (it’s literally Han’s entire backstory from Star Wars). As the film progresses, it’s uncovered there’s a little more to Frank than what’s established. The problem lies in how haphazardly this additional backstory is set up and how unimaginative the reveal and exposition is. It also occurs far too late in the film to really leave an effect.
Being that it’s clearly patterned after Pirates of the Caribbean in style, it’s disconcerting that Jungle Cruise’s visual effects are so distractingly bland. Even supernatural scenes of people with vaguely similar afflictions as those in The Curse of the Black Pearl look no where near as good and polished as those in Pirates nearly twenty years ago. There’s also a CGI tiger companion in the film that looks awkward and out of place at all times, even when drunk.
Visual blemishes and even bland scripts can be easily excused with thrilling action and adventure but Jungle Cruise doesn’t have any of that going for it. The opening action sequence involves Emily Blunt evading attackers while on a rolling ladder in a small room. It plays out very awkwardly and only serves to contrive an escape for Blunt’s character. And that level of poor choreography and set piece planning is evident throughout the whole film.
At its best, Jungle Cruise is filled to the brim with puns. Really. There are a multitude of puns in the film and even that got incredibly tiresome. The film also features Jesse Plemons as a German villain that isn’t given much context or even much screen time. His performance is worth mentioning as he seems to be one of the only cast members who refused to sleep walk through the role.
In these waning days of a still struggling summer movie season, Jungle Cruise could have been a fun adventure movie. But even with a dearth of blockbuster movies playing in theaters, Jungle Cruise fails to deliver the goods and ends up sinking as soon as it leaves the dock.
Jungle Cruise opens in theaters and on Disney+ (with Premier Access) on July 30th.
Read Ben’s Review Here
About the Writer: Matt Hurt is the creator of ObsessiveViewer.com. He also created, hosts, and produces The Obsessive Viewer, Anthology, and Tower Junkies podcasts. He is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association and lives in Indianapolis with his cat Pizza Roll.
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