Jungle Cruise (2021): Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt Sail Through a Mediocre Run Through the Amazon
“Jungle Cruise” is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, The Shallows) and stars Dwayne Johnson (The Fate of the Furious, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns, A Quiet Place), Jack Whitehall (The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Mother’s Day), Edgar Ramírez (Gold, Point Break), with Jesse Plemons (Game Night, Judas and the Black Messiah), and Paul Giamatti (12 Years a Slave, Sideways). This film is based on the Disney theme park ride of the same name and is set during World War I. Throughout the film we see the mysterious ship captain Frank Wolff, who gives cheap tours through the Amazon River, join forces with Lily Houghton as they search for a tree that contains magical healing powers. While their intentions are to use it for good, Germany has other plans to utilize the power of the tree in order to win the war.
I saw “Jungle Cruise” on opening Thursday in the theater and safe to say, I had moderate expectations going in. I was not expecting Shakespeare, in fact most movies starring The Rock, regardless of his acting talent, are not usually taken as seriously as others. The trailers looked okay, they seemed to have promised a generic adventure that is somewhat family friendly despite being PG-13. In fact, the more I think about it, it kind of looked like a better version of “Dolittle,” as the plot of that film also involved finding a specific tree for healing purposes. There were plenty of people at my screening. It was not a sold out show, but it was good to see families returning to the theater. I went by myself, because I’m awesome, I’m important, and goddamnit, I’m the absolute best! But is “Jungle Cruise” worth the trip? In addition, is it worth $30 on Disney+?
“Jungle Cruise” certainly ain’t no “Indiana Jones.” Or “Pirates of the Caribbean” if you want to get into other theme park ride-based films. Well, the first one to be specific. If anything, “Jungle Cruise” is more in line with the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean.” It’s a fun film to watch once and then forget about. I will admit, I had quite a few problems with this film as I sat down trying to take it all in. This is one of those rare times where I watch a film and think that Dwayne Johnson is not exactly likable. I mean, sure, I can probably find one or two other films where that is the case. “Tooth Fairy” is another one that comes to mind. But if I have learned one thing in recent years, it’s that regardless of his acting ability, Dwayne Johnson is one of the most charismatic movie stars out there today. He’s up there with Tom Hanks and Ryan Reynolds. Two actors who I think are more talented than The Rock, but there is no denying that they have delivered dumptrucks of likability over the years just from their personalities and how they present themselves on screen.
I’m not saying The Rock is a dick in this film or anything. I just find the way they wrote his character to be somewhat of a letdown. You know, one of the best things about movies like “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Memento,” and “Parasite,” without getting into detail, are the twists and turns these movies take along the way. “Jungle Cruise” is no stranger to this idea, but there was one subversion of my expectations that happened in the first twenty minutes of the film regarding The Rock’s character that made him go from a badass hunk of a man to… Somebody. I dunno. The point is, right off the bat, the character did not leave me with the best first impression. In fact, one of first scenes in the movie with this character, Frank Wolff, is him giving a tour through the Amazon River. The tour itself is notably cheap and lacks an oomph factor. That was the intention on the script’s part, therefore I am not calling this a critique. But the thing is, the whole scene is just The Rock trying to give a boring tour while delivering so many dad jokes. And that’s a thing throughout the movie. Dad jokes! Dad jokes everywhere! Who wrote this movie? 7 year olds? I have never ridden the ride this movie bases itself upon, but apparently, according to what I’ve heard about the Jungle Cruise ride itself, there’s a tour guide on the ride, and that tour guide will spew out dad jokes here and there. While I appreciate the nods to the source material, I’ll be blunt and say this doesn’t rock.
I will say that one of my regrets, despite seeing this in the theater, part of me wishes I saw it in 3D or some large premium format. I ended up seeing the film in regular 2D as that was the most convenient timeslot. But if you want a visual feast, this may be worth the trip. The same cannot be said for the story though, at least from my perspective. Because while it is unpredictable at times, it is surface level and the unpredictability is not precisely impressive.
Although I will say that one of my highlights of the film would be some of the supporting cast. Jesse Plemons has been great in everything I’ve seen him in so far, so naturally he is also great in “Jungle Cruise.” Here he plays Prince Joachim, an over the top German aristocrat who stands in the way of the heroes. Plemons does not even feel like himself in this movie. He feels like he’s playing someone from another world at times. Granted, it is a Disney film, where a little over the top sprinkles are encouraged. I will also note Jack Whitehall as Lily’s brother, MacGregor, who comes along for the cruise. Whitehall comes off as a likable coward who almost tries to be the voice of reason but does so almost poorly. I think he is easily one of the better parts of the film the more I think about it.
Disney has tried time and time again to recreate the success of “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Whether “Jungle Cruise” gets a sequel or not is still somewhat questionable on the surface because of the pandemic. The movie did not do too great thus far theatrically or on Disney+. But when it comes to movies based on Disney’s theme park rides, this feels more focused on gimmicks and immersion compared to story. The story is okay, but it is most certainly not great. If you have a family and are looking for an excuse to leave the house, I’d say see this in the most immersive format you can afford. It may be fun for a couple of hours, but I cannot guarantee you will remember it much after.
In the end, “Jungle Cruise” is mediocrely paced, more focused on style over substance, and MY GOD the dad jokes never end! That’s a weird complaint coming from me, because if you know my family, specifically my father’s side, we get together a lot and we are no strangers to puns. In fact, for those of you who do not know, my last name is Drees, and on my father’s side of the family, we call puns and other related jokes “Drees humor” just because of how commonplace it has become when we are around each other. Either way, they did not work in “Jungle Cruise.” I think Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt are a fair pair. Although I wish the script served the actors better, especially Johnson. The film does look nice, but looks are not everything. I want a good story too, but “Jungle Cruise” failed in that regard. I’m going to give “Jungle Cruise” a 5/10.
“Jungle Cruise” is now playing in theaters and it is also available through Disney+ with Premier Access for $29.99 on top of a subscription.
Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed this review for a film based on a Disney theme park ride, why not read five more?! Be sure to check out my reviews for all five “Pirates of the Caribbean” films including “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” “Dead Man’s Chest,” “At World’s End,” “On Stranger Tides,” and “Dead Men Tell No Tales.” I reviewed all of these films as part of recognizing Scene Before’s 5th anniversary in an exclusive series titled “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews!”
Continuing down the road of Scene Before’s 5th anniversary, this Monday I will be unveiling my thoughts on the 1984 sex comedy “Revenge of the Nerds” as a starting point of the upcoming review series, “Revenge of the Nerds: Nerds in Review.” As I’ve said previously, my in-depth thoughts on this film, not to mention franchise, feels like it is long overdue.
Speaking of things we’ve all been waiting for, this weekend we are finally getting to watch “The Suicide Squad!” I have IMAX tickets for Saturday, I cannot wait to share my thoughts with you. James Gunn, I have faith in you, do not let me down. If you want to see all this and more on Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Jungle Cruise?” What did you think about it? Or, did you ever go on the Jungle Cruise ride? What was that like? Leave your thoughts and opinions down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!