When I first heard about Disney’s Jungle Cruise, a film adaptation of the famous theme park ride, I felt skeptical that it would be any more than another failed cash-in. I like Dwayne Johnson and the types of movies this one’s trailers have emulated, but I have little faith in Disney’s live-action films. Their theme park ride-based movies have historically flopped, except for the Pirates series, and I don’t think The Haunted Mansion or Tomorrowland are forgotten gems. Disney has been getting on my nerves more than usual lately, between the huge embarrassments and lack of great theatrical output this year. However, it would be unfair to hold all this against one movie. Let’s take a look.
Jungle Cruise opens with a dramatic narration about cursed Spanish Conquistadors that’s revealed to be a pitch for an explorer’s society. This attempt by siblings Lily (Emily Blunt) and MacGregor Houghton (Jack Whitehall) to win the explorers over fails spectacularly. Lily sneaks off to find an artifact that will lead to the Tears of the Moon, a legendary healing plant that could revolutionize medicine. She gets it, but has to run from a German prince (Jesse Plemons) and the members of the society. Once they make it to the Amazon, Lily and MacGregor seek out Mr. Nilo (Paul Giamatti), who owns almost every boat in the area and provides jungle tours. She ends up with Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) instead, and the two butt heads along the way. Can this ragtag team of misfits make it to the Tears in one piece?
I’m of two minds about Jungle Cruise. Some aspects surprised me and really won me over, while problems that should have been easily avoided jumped out at me. Jungle Cruise features a musical score by James Newton Howard, and it’s just lovely. It’s exciting, mysterious, and foreboding at all the right turns. My only gripe here is with Frank’s flashback scene. Why does the music turn to a rock sound with an electric guitar during this scene? It doesn’t fit the setting or tone at all. Visually, Jungle Cruise is nothing less than splendid. I recommend seeing this movie in a theater (if it’s safe in your area), not only to stick it to these $30 Disney+ releases but because of its lush look. The jungle itself feels alive and like a character in itself. In this sense, the movie reminded me a bit of the 2016 Jungle Book remake. The animals and foliage are convincing, and the effects on the cursed Conquistadors are quite impressive. These characters and the animation of their condition felt like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean. Stuff like this is where Jungle Cruise soars, and if anything, I think they could have gone further in this direction.
The film’s other villains, Nilo and Prince Joachim, don’t fare as well. I love Paul Giamatti, and I’m always excited to see him pop up in anything, but I’m genuinely flabbergasted by his role in Jungle Cruise. It’s not his fault, but Nilo is annoying and unfunny while adding nothing to the story. Once Frank, Lily, and MacGregor are headed down the river, Nilo loses all menace and relevance to the larger story. When we see him again in the end, he doesn’t do anything despite Frank destroying his port and several of his buildings. Why did they do one of Hollywood’s best character actors like this? What a waste. I have a similar problem with Joachim. I like Jesse Plemons and was excited for his performance in this movie, but he’s played as a joke, and not a very funny one. There’s one scene where he struggles to say the word “jungle,” and this goes on for a while, with MacGregor trying to understand him. They really thought this gag was funny enough to drag out for a couple of minutes? I want to be mad, but I almost feel sorry for whoever was in charge of the jokes. Maybe they need a hug. The villains are one of the worst, most disappointing aspects of Jungle Cruise. There are too many of them, for one thing. I like the Conquistadors in concept and execution, but I think a decision should have been made between Nilo and Joachim. Either character could have been given more screen time and treated with more respect, and that would have solved the problem.
However, I liked Frank and Lily quite a bit more than I expected. I like Dwayne Johnson, but more for his own humor and charisma than for his characters themselves (except for Maui). But Frank is likable enough, despite doing some despicable things early on. I was also genuinely surprised by his backstory reveal; I really didn’t think that was where the movie was going. They got me. Lily actually has flaws and makes mistakes, which is not the vibe I got from the trailer. I was afraid she would be the fearless, flawless leader while Frank bumbled along, following her orders. Their dynamic was quite balanced, and they complement one another well. These aren’t terribly complex or creative characters, but they work well in Jungle Cruise. I also liked MacGregor, though I don’t think the writers did him justice. When you find out his secret, it becomes clear why he acts like such a stereotype, and it’s disappointing. A character shouldn’t be defined by one aspect of their personality, and they don’t do this with either of the other leads. Disney finally does something here for which they’ve been seeking credit for years now. I wish it were done a little more gracefully, and the actor and character were given more room to breathe and be more than one character trait.
Overall, I enjoyed Jungle Cruise. It’s not a masterpiece, and the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films are still Disney’s best theme park-based movies. But the acting, visuals, and music make it worth seeing, especially if you can make it to the theater.
Overall, I enjoyed Jungle Cruise. It's not a masterpiece, and the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films are still Disney's best theme park-based movies. But the acting, visuals, and music make it worth seeing, especially if you can make it to the theater.
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The ‘rock’ music was Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’, that was sprinkled throughout the entire movie’s soundtrack. It was an odd choice and made for mediocre results, score-wise. Disagree about Jesse Plemon’s character. He was very enjoyable and Plemon’s has such a creepiness to him that as ‘silly’ as the character is, he still comes off as sinister.
The movie didn’t go woke with Blunt’s character, which was refreshing, but they did have to get the gay character in there; and of course, he was annoying and useless for 99% of the movie.
The movie’s first half was Indiana Jones and the second half was Pirates. Not as good as either, but overall, I found it to be one of Disney’s more enjoyable movies in the past ~8 years.