Normal circumstances would see much riding on Jaume Collet-Serra’s Jungle Cruise. It’s Disney’s best chance to make their first live-action “new to cinema” franchise since Pirates of the Caribbean and National Treasure. These are only two examples of this funny but ultimately hollow adventure comedy. The other references are:
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Stephen Sommers’ lusty, swashbuckler version).
- The African Queen.
- The Mummy.
- Romancing the Stone.
The Dwayne Johnson/Emily Blunt movie is enjoyable enough for children, but it merely reminds you of other better movies that were made along their path and are stand-alone masterpieces of art.
Based on the Disney park attraction, the film features skewed sarcasm and a constant orgy full of laugh-worthy puns. Jungle Cruise was set in 1916. Blunt plays Dr. Lily Houghton. She’s a persistent botany expert trying to convince her chauvinistic colleagues to fund a mission that seeks the “Tree of Life” with healing powers. Captain Frank Wolff (Johnson), who owes too much to the harbormaster (Paul Giamatti), reluctantly agrees that he transport the doctor and her brother/assistant McGregor into the dangerous jungle. They must face the perils of nature and the evil Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who is looking for the same treasure to secure Germany’s victory “the Great War.” This sounds horrible.
The ride on the Jungle Cruise is a great way to get things started. Once our heroes are out on the sea, however, the story quickly becomes a paint-by-numbers tale, with the action becoming gratuitous and frantic, as well as narratively arbitrarily. Although I don’t mind too much CGI, too many sets are dominated by effects-driven peril. It will remind me of the first Jumanji. Blunt and Johnson were seen in a hilarious jungle adventure. It becomes more “adventure” than “comedy, the less engaging it is. For example, the two latest Jumanjiflicks starring Johnson knew how to balance these two essential elements. It’s a $200 million tentpole, which would have been much more fun as a $90 million “stretch all your dollars” flick.
The plot consists of Dead Men Tell No Tales, On Stranger Tides, and characters from The Mummy. The Mummy is also involved and aspires to be Romancing the Stone. The movie lacks sexual chemistry, thirst, or lust, and this is without going into more detail. Blunt and Johnson are both incredibly attractive people. They have great chemistry and have fun sparring. But the film seems afraid that letting Blunt show a hint of lust will negate her “girl boss” credentials while trapping Johnson in an overcompensating-MeToo mentality of being unwilling to flirt. This is problematic because A) it is supposed to be romance, and B) the movies that inspired it were lusty, thirst-driven adventure films that were not afraid to indulge the “female stare.” Many people die implicitly and without pain in the PG-13 Jungle Cruise, but it is not uncommon for the doctor to mentally dress her skipper companion.
Where’s the Disney that cast Orlando Bloom, a sexy Orlando Bloom, and Keira Knightley into a thrilling Curse of the Black Pearl? This film earned its PG-13 rating while wrapping The Haunted Mansion with a cursed romance doomed to racism. Where is the Disney that made Maleficent “Ms. 45” for children? The MCU released Iron Man 3, which made The Power of Nightmares a comic book stew and made one of the most iconic villains of the franchise into bait-and-switch political commentary. Is there a Disney that was better than (Pete’s Dragon), braver and more political (Zootopia), which faced white liberal prejudice? Jungle Cruise is a big-budget Walt Disney movie that feels like an original Disney Channel movie.
It’s great that Jack Whitehall’s character reveals himself to Dwayne Johnson in a supportive scene. This is both because of the LGBTQIA representation (albeit one that’s sexless) and its value in justifying Blunt’s distrust and hostility. That reveal could be aired uncut on Disney Channel, and it is strong enough to be cut out in disapproving foreign markets. But that’s the sum of the film’s nerve. It longs to be Indiana Jones or Romancing the Stone but cannot follow the films’ adrenaline-fueled adventure spirit. It is as sexually inept as the National Treasure movies. Only Collet-Serra’s horror sensibilities offer anything that resembles a pulse during the second and third acts. Jungle Cruise lacks a distinct identity and most closely resembles Pure Flix.