“Jungle Cruise” is not as awful as I feared after watching its trailer several weeks ago, but it is also not as fun and entertaining as it could be. As a blockbuster flick based on one of those theme park rides of Disney Parks, it surely has lots of stuffs to be presented during its ride, but it often stumbles in terms of plot and characters in addition to having other problems including its overlong running time (127 minutes), and that is a shame considering the game efforts from its main cast members.
The opening part, which is set in London, England during the World War I, quickly establishes the story premise. Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) has been searching for a certain mythical entity probably hidden somewhere in the Amazon, and she needs a certain old South American artifact which may contain the information on the exact location of that mythical entity. When her plan A for obtaining that artifact is failed despite the sincere efforts from her younger brother McGregor (James Whitehall), she instantly moves onto the plan B, and that consequently leads to the first action scene in the film.
Anyway, after managing to succeed in obtaining that artifact in question, Lily and McGregor soon go to a small port town located in the middle of the Amazon for embarking on their risky journey along the river, and that is where she happens to encounter Captain Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), a big gruff dude who has run his modest river tour business via his old steamboat there. Although she and her brother are supposed to hire some other guy in the town whom Frank incidentally owes lots of money, Lily chooses to hire Frank in the end mainly because of how he confidently responds to a sudden emergency involved with a wild jaguar.
Frank warns from the beginning that their river journey toward a certain remote jungle area will be quite risky and perilous, but, needless to say, Lily does not give up at all as your average 20th century modern woman who is as spirited and feisty as, say, Katharine Hepburn, and her brother reluctantly accompanies her despite being your typical timid nerd. Watching the shabby appearance of Frank and his steamboat, I could not help but think of John Huston’s classic adventure film “The African Queen” (1951), and Frank and Lily are certainly as mismatched as Hepburn and her equally legendary co-star in that movie.
As this trio begins to sail along the river, the movie throws them into one adventure after another. While we get a thrilling sequence unfolded along a rapid which may send them all down to a big waterfall, there is also a rather amusing part involved with a bunch of indigenous tribe people who turn out to be not as hostile as they seemed at first, and the movie goes all the way for goofiness during this part.
The movie also brings extra tension to the story via its chief villain played by Jesse Plemons, who cheerfully wields a certain foreign accent as savoring his every villainous moment in the film. While his character is not particularly menacing, Plemons seems to understand well the ridiculous aspects of his character and the movie, and he always enlivens the movie with a wry sense of humor while somehow avoiding chewing his scenes too much.
Besides having lots of soldiers working under him, Plemons’ character, who happens to be as knowledgeable as Lily in their common academic field, also recruits a trio of very old cursed figures not so far from those cursed pirate characters in “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003). One of them is Aguirre (Édgar Ramírez), and he and his fellow cursed figures’ historical background surely took me back to Werner Herzog’s mesmerizing masterpiece “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” (1972), though it is impossible to expect “Jungle Cruise” to be as uncanny and awe-inspiring as that great film.
Despite these and other fun materials, the movie comes to lose its narrative momentum during its second half, and we become more aware of its weak aspects. Director Jaume Collet-Serra, who has been mostly known for several notable action movies starring Liam Neeson, and his crew members keep things rolling as before at least, but the expected climax part does not surprise or excite us much in addition to being predictable and pedestrian, and I was also disappointed with the superficial handling of a certain hidden aspect of McGregor, who turns out to be quite more loyal to his older sister than he seemed at first.
As the two lead performers of the film, Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt acquit themselves quite well although both of them are often limited by trite storytelling and weak characterization. Besides having enough pluck to fill her broad character, Blunt willingly hurls herself into brisk action as well as a number of silly comic moments, and Johnson dutifully delivers some laughs for us, though he feels rather awkward when the movie attempts to bring some gravitas to his character later in the story. In case of the other main cast members including Jack Whitehall, Édgar Ramírez, and Paul Giamatti, they are sadly stuck in thankless supporting roles in contrast to Plemons, and Ramírez is particularly wasted as mired in lots of CGI.
In conclusion, “Jungle Cruise” is not a total dud at all, but it is one or two steps behind “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”, which is also incidentally based on one of Disney Parks rides. While clearly influenced by many other similar adventure films such as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981) and “Romancing the Stone” (1984), the movie does not have enough personality or entertainment in comparison, and I assure you that you will have a better time if you watch either of two aforementioned films instead. Or, if you have never heard of “Aguirre, the Wrath of God”, you really should check out that masterpiece as soon as possible.