Disney+ film review: Jungle Cruise
Thrills and spills6
Johnson and Blunt7
But mainly Johnson4
Mark Harrison | On 29, Jul 2021
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti
Where to watch Jungle Cruise online in the UK: Disney+ UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
Jungle Cruise is the latest in a line of films inspired by Disneyland attractions, including The Haunted Mansion, Tomorrowland and, of course, Pirates of the Caribbean. A theme-park ride may be slight source material, but as a springboard for a modern comedic adventure blockbuster, it’s full steam ahead for the first hour. It’s only unfortunate that it drifts home via The Lost City of Zzzzz’s.
Once intended as a live-action vehicle for Toy Story stars Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, the film stars Emily Blunt as Dr Lily Houghton, a scientist searching the jungle for the legendary Tree of Life, and Dwayne Johnson as Frank Wolff, the cynical steamboat captain she hires to guide her down the Amazon river. Bringing Lily’s brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) along for the ride, the bickering pair hope to make a world-changing discovery, all while avoiding a competing expedition by deranged German prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons).
On the topside of Jungle Cruise, there’s a terrific update of lots of different bits of adventure films. Blunt’s character has been likened to a female Indiana Jones in publicity materials, but the movie’s larger influences range from The African Queen to the 1999 version of The Mummy. The longer it goes on, the more you realise that below deck, it’s closer to the last couple of Pirates sequels.
For the better part, then, Blunt makes a brilliant lead, a ramshackle alumnus of Indy’s “making it up as I go” school of derring-do who has great anti-chemistry with Johnson. And surrounding the pair is a motley bunch of actors having a tremendous time overplaying their roles, whether it’s Plemons splitting the difference between René Belloq and the evil Baron from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Paul Giamatti turning up as a grasping tour-boat mogul with a pet parrot on his shoulder.
And then there’s Johnson, whose star power and producer credit threaten to overbalance what should be a consistent buddy dynamic. Blunt is more than capable of holding her own, but after a mid-point turn, Johnson goes from handy-in-a-fight, dad-joke-loving grump to the centre of attention in a plot that winds up over-explaining itself. Compare Jack Sparrow in The Curse of the Black Pearl to Jack Sparrow in all the other Pirates films and you’re on the right track.
At least there’s an enjoyable quality to Johnson anachronistically squeezing his size 13.5s into Humphrey Bogart’s shoes, but there’s only massive irony in Whitehall’s third-wheel character turning up with too much dead weight for the boat. Incidentally, pre-release, much has been made of his character being the latest halting gesture towards LGBTQ representation. As utterly inadequate as the scene in question may be, it’s more troubling that we might be about to see Whitehall follow in the footsteps of Gervais, Brand, and Corden as an omnipresent Hollywood crossover de rigeur.
Casting aside, it’s the all-too-familiar blockbuster bloat in the film’s otherwise agreeable two-hour running time. The film burns goodwill barrelling backwards and forwards through exposition in the second half. Despite some big laughs and cracking set pieces early on and some treasurable performances from Blunt and Plemons, Jungle Cruise lists towards exhaustion rather than exhilaration.
Jungle Cruise is available on Disney+, in addition to a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.