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Review: Jungle Cruise (2021)

The second The Rock pulled out a guitar I was out.

When I saw the first trailer for Jungle Cruise (2021) my honest reaction was, “oh, so it’s just the plot of The Mummy (1999)?” You’d think I’m being hyperbolic but think about it: Jungle Cruise is set decades in the past and is about an adventurous English intellectual and her bumbling brother as they hire a gruff and experienced guide to lead them on a dangerous quest to a magical land where they accidentally awaken an ancient evil. As someone who’s seen The Mummy approximately 10,000 times, I have to admit that that synopsis sounds a wee but familiar. Unfortunately for Jungle Cruise, I don’t predict it becoming the beloved and rewatchable classic that The Mummy is. It may have all the same tools, but unlike The Mummy, Jungle Cruise has no idea how to use them.

Credit: / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Based on the theme park attraction of the same name, Jungle Cruise follows Dr. Lily Houghton, a scientist who is on a quest to find the Tears of the Moon Tree to harness its medicinal properties. To lead her and her brother MacGregor on their journey, Lily hires Frank, the captain of a small riverboat to guide them through the Amazon.

I know they have more money than they know what to do with, but in a way you have to feel sorry for poor ol’ Disney. Ever since Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) blew everyone’s minds and proved how fun and profitable a movie based on a theme park ride could be, the studio has been trying to find an attraction to translate to the big screen with equal success. Remember Tomorrowland (2015)? Jungle Cruise is closer to the mark than recent attempts, but Disney is going to have to keep searching if they have their hearts set on making one of their rides into an irresistible thrill-ride of a movie. You can tell the inspiration that this movie takes from the likes of The Mummy, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and even Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) but ultimately Jungle Cruise fails to be as charming, thrilling, or cool as those movies. If anything, all this movie made me yearn to do was rewatch all of those movies. Jungle Cruise would love to think that it’s on the same level as Raiders of the Lost Ark but really, it’s much more on the level of Dolittle (2020). By the way, check out my review for those last two movies, here and here.

Jungle Cruise is a little soulless. It simply doesn’t have the same passion, fire, or inherent sense of excitement like the movies listed above. Honestly? It feels like Disney was just going through the motions with this one. It feels halfhearted. Like the studio knew that all they had to do to make a quick and easy buck was to pick an existing intellectual property, write up a simple script, throw some effects at it, hire some big names and BOOM: $128 million in ticket sales. You don’t get the sense of heart, care, and commitment to making a super fun and cool movie that you get when you watch something like The Mummy. The lack of originality and thought hurts Jungle Cruise. Full of stale humour and dull action scenes, this is pretty tame for Disney. I could name about a dozen adventure movies more lively than this one. I can’t believe I’m actually writing this but Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019) is full of more action, laughter, and mystery than Jungle Cruise. Wow.

It’s hard to believe that the screenwriters of Jungle Cruise are the same minds behind such compelling, memorable, and well-written movies as Logan (2017), Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), and I Love You Phillip Morris (2009). By the way, check out my review for that last movie, here. My biggest gripe with Jungle Cruise (besides it not being very memorable) is that it never takes a second to breathe. We go from meeting Lily and MacGregor and a fun escape, to Frank’s painfully unfunny sham of a cruise, to all these characters meeting up, and then two more lacklustre escape scenes. During all of that we never get the fundamentals of why anything going on in this movie is important. Who is Lily as a character? Why is this quest so important to her? What are the consequences if she fails? None of this is made clear in the first HOUR AND 20 MINUTES and you can’t help but feel like the movie is wasting time on mindless action rather than cultivating an interesting story. Nothing substantial to help move the story along has actually happens in that first 80 minutes. There is simultaneously so much going on and nothing going on. So much seemingly unnecessary backstory is given and yet not nearly enough attention is given to what’s going on in the present day. Jungle Cruise doesn’t do enough to get you to become invested in either the characters or the plot. It got to the point where towards the end things became either so convoluted or unextraordinary that I just didn’t care anymore.

There is also A LOT of forced, “ohhh, look at how different Lily is from other women because she reads AND wears pants!” Seriously, somehow the fact she wears pants becomes a focal point of the movie that every character is compelled to mention. I get that that would have been noteworthy for women in 1916, but it’s a major pet peeve of mine when movies feel like they need to bash us over the head with why a character is cool. We get it. We can see that Lily is smart, adventurous, heroic, compassionate…we don’t need to be constantly reminded. We’re on Team Lily! I just wish the movie actually let Lily’s actions and character speak for themselves rather than having the other characters do it. 

Prior to watching Jungle Cruise I saw an interview with Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson and I remember thinking, “wow, they have zero chemistry together in real life.” Turns out, they had just as little chemistry in the movie. There was more chemistry between Johnson and the CGI jaguar than him and Blunt. Or any other human character for that matter. I didn’t buy the romance between their characters at all. The movie tries to play their relationship as an “enemies to lovers” storyline but it comes off as ingenue and not at all enjoyable. Ugh, and I absolutely loathed the forced nicknames of “Pants” and “Skippy.” Note to screenwriters: aggressively repeating nicknames that weren’t cute to begin with does not equate romance. Dwayne Johnson is charismatic as all get out and more often than not he’s capable of bringing that charisma to each role he plays. But his performance as Frank just feels so wooden. He’s almost a parody of himself (but not that self-aware) and seems to be phoning it in as he collects that Disney paycheque. This movie proves that he really cannot act, at least in any movie set in the past. Maybe this is just me but I would have preferred this movie without his character. I mean, haven’t we as a society outgrown movies where female scientists needs the burly adventure man to guide her on her journey? Couldn’t Lily and MacGregor have taken this journey alone? At least you can always rely on Blunt to give it her all no matter what genre she’s in. Bless her heart for being as lovely and professional as always.

Why hire a comedian like Jack Whitehall and then neuter him by casting him as a thoroughly unfunny character? As MacGregor, he plays such an annoying stick in the mud. He also cares a lot about his fancy clothes and toiletries and is uptight and fussy. What is Disney trying to say about their allegedly first openly gay character? Disney’s attempt at gay representation is really just..non-existent. MacGregor saying that he never got married because his “interests lie elsewhere” is not representation at all. My eyes almost rolled out of my head. Also, why is Paul Giamatti even in this movie? What a waste. It’s not even like his character, whose role is microscopic, has any huge impact on the story or characters. It was hilarious to watch him be the MOST Italian he could possibly be though. He, Jesse Plemons, and Édgar Ramírez as antagonists are all overkill. Because of how the characters are all written like cartoons rather than real people, I genuinely questioned if Jungle Cruise would have done better as an animated movie. 

The low-energy acting, bad effects, and bland plot make Jungle Cruise feel like one of Disney’s projects from the early 2000s. Like The Haunted Mansion (2003) or Around the World in 80 Days (2004). How can The Mummy and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, movies from 20 years ago, have both better effects and sets? You have the money Disney! Utilize practical effects and sets and give the green screen a rest! I have to say though that part of the reason I wanted to see this movie is to see how ridiculously silly Johnson and his enormous muscular body would look in his little old-timey waistcoat and flat cap. And I was not disappointed. And when he wears a top hat? Bitch, I burst out laughing.

Credit: / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Have you seen Jungle Cruise?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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