“Based on Disneyland’s theme park ride where a small riverboat takes a group of travelers through a jungle filled with dangerous animals and reptiles but with a supernatural element.

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Writers: Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Staring: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jesse Plemons, Edgar Ramirez, Jack Whitehall Paul Giamatti
Release Date: July 30, 2021
Where To Watch: Disney+

Jungle Cruise takes place in the 1910s and begins with Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) stealing a trinket from an antique shop with the aid of her brother MacGregor Houghton (Jack Whitehall). The arrowhead piece the key piece for the duo to travel to the Amazon and team up with Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) and search for a mystical tree that has the secrets to heal all wounds and illness. (It was weird watching Tangled (2010) right after this and seeing the same McGuffin in both Disney adventures)

The road is not all sunshine and rainbows and soon the trio is being chased by a malevolent Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) and cursed conquistadors, both of whom want the powers of the tree for their own means. In the end all parties clash and secrets are revealed that force tough decisions and dangerous situations, all which one would never expect from a easy-going jungle cruise ride.

Starting off the the story itself, it’s better if we only stick with the opening 45 minutes of show. Jungle Cruise excels most when it is setting up its characters and developing the exposition needed. Blunts into is wildly fun and inventive, and Wolff’s standup routine is hilariously silly. Prince Joachim is comically evil and Nilo Nemolato is bombastic (and dresses the part too).

Once the story gets going down the river, things start to get rocky the more the lore starts to take hold. Aguirre and his fellow soldiers, all caped in twigs and snakes, have a surprise attack and from that point on it becomes a CGI special effects fest. Jungle Cruise follows from the same bumpy path as Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (2021); wasting exciting practical action for an over-the-top finale that drowns itself with unneeded stimulation. I am going to make a comparison to The Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003) later in this review, but another quick one is needed here. Remember the end if The Black Pearl and the sword fights and how intimate that felt? You had the CGI of the skeletons, but still it was the actors doing the brunt of the work, and not the VFX crew. Such is not the case with Jungle Cruise.

Despite the ending being a bit bumpy, the overall ride of Jungle Cruise is more than suitable for everyone watching. Director Jaume Collet-Serra manages to create something far more entertaining than it has any right to be, which seems to be a pattern of his. Collet-Serra’s second major motion picture was Orphan (2009) which is rated higher than you’d ever expect, and fast forward to 2016 with The Shallows, which is a truly surprising animal killing-machine movie. Also, if you want a stand action movie that stars Liam Neeson, then Collet-Serra is your man; Unknown (2011), Non-Stop (2014), and The Commuter (2018).

It should be noted that Dwayne Johnson must have liked working with Collet-Serra because the tandem are pairing up against for Black Adam (2022), which has a lot weight on its shoulders being one most anticipated super-hero movies in recent memory. Seems to me like Black Adam is at least a safe bet to be a mid-range jumper with Collet-Serra and Dwayne Johnson involved.

Now I digress.

Starting off with the biggest slam dunk of Jungle Cruise, miss Emily Blunt does not miss. Blunt is undeniably the best part of this movie. When Jungle Cruise is floating along at its best, Blunt is steering it past all of its pitfalls and rowing it through the rocky rapids. She is the captain of this ship, and do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

While watching Jungle Cruise, it is compelling to look up the filmography of Blunt. She is on a run of consistently being the fulcrum or best role for any movie she has been in. We have Jungle Cruise, which was a follow up to A Quiet Place Part II (2020). Before that it was an award worthy Marry Poppins Returns (2018), and before that was the genre shattering A Quiet Place (2018). You can glimpse of The Girl On The Train (2016) and The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016), because before them we have the now classic Sicario (2015) and science-fiction cult favorite Edge Of Tomorrow (2014).

Putting it bluntly, Blunt doesn’t get the respect she deserves. Imagine if she was given the roles of Gal Gadot? Blunt is a better actress in every facet and has more charisma in her pinky that Gadot does in her entire body. There is a version of twisted history I’d like to see Blunt get more a chance at a younger age to become that action start she can and deserves to be.

Dwayne Johnson is fine as Frank Wolff. He is Dwayne Johnson. He is what he has been in for the last five-plus years. There is a reason you hire than man to be the one-line joke deliverer and the hunky but emotionally vulnerable hero. Johnson is good at what he does and he is plays the right notes to hit all the markers you need. Props do need to be given to the screenwriters Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa because I did not see the twist coming that he was a conquistador as well. Sure, once Frank fell off the cliff, you knew he was going to come back, but with a sword impaled in his chest was not the way one would have expected.

There is an issue with this twist; it was played like a joke. It is not fair to compare Jungle Cruise to The Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl in every facet, but it is impossible not to tangle here. Lily Houghton and her brother MacGregor Houghton (Jack Whitehall) find their fallen friend alive and it is a purely comedic scene that follows with Houghton needing to pull the sword out of him. Compare that too when Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) comes walking down the steps of The Black Pearl and tells Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) that she is indeed in a ghost story.

One reveal works, and one doesn’t. You pick.

It does deserve mentioning that Jesse Plemons is in Jungle Cruise. Did you know that? Because I had no idea. He plays Prince Joachim and is one of the many bad guys in this movie. Edgar Ramírez is the main cursed Spaniard Aguirre, and the Paul Giamatti gets the back as the greedy ship hoarder Nilo Nemolato. What a name. One could argue that Plemon’s character is not needed at all; he is the middle-man between the heroes and the cursed jungle dwellers, but once we learn that Wolff and Aguirre have history together, wouldn’t that tension have been enough to pull them together?

Last actor bit? I have very happy to see Jack Whitehall in an American movie. He is great on British TV and just happy to see someone getting a break he deserves.

Random question, for the readers here. What is the next Disney ride that is going to be made into the movie. There is the massive success of The Curse Of The Black Pearl but the flop of Tomorrowland (2015). Is it going to be Space Mountain? There was The Haunted Mansion (2003), which was ultimately forgettable, so the line you need to tread is very thin. Also does anyone remember the animated movie Dinosaur (2000), which was based off of an Animal Kingdom ride? I never saw that movie, but it does in fact exist.

For my money, the only possible option is the one I mentioned already, Space Mountain. Not sure what story you could create around a roller coaster where you can’t see anything that happens in front of you, but we all know that Disney is willing to find a way.

Jungle Cruise is the perfect family movie for a Friday evening. The movie blends a simple story, charismatic characters, childish and adult humor and a brisk pace that allows for the time to past back quickly even if you are noticing some negative aspects in the back of your head. Jungle Cruise is a new version of Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (2017). Appreciate the movie for what it is and let the current take you wherever it may. The one-time joyful ride of Jungle Cruise makes you politely clap like at the end of the titular ride at Disney Land.

STANKO RATING: B- (3.0/5 Stars)

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