The first time I went to Disneyland, I was 32 years old. Jungle Cruise is a ride that many theme park lovers encourage first-timers to visit, so I waited in line for 45 minutes and was extremely underwhelmed. Thank goodness the new movie, starring Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Édgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti, is much more entertaining.
Jungle Cruise — directed by Jaume Collet-Serra from a story by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa and a screenplay from Michael Green, Ficarra, and Requa — is a live-action adventure based on the famous Disneyland attraction starring two of the most charismatic actors in the business: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt. As entertaining as this film is, the script makes decisions that keep a good movie from becoming a great one.
Lily Houghton (Blunt) is an idealistic botanist looking for the “tears of the moon,” an ancient indigenous plant from Brazil with healing powers. Her goal is to get a petal from the tree in hopes of saving lives, so along with her brother Macgregor (Whitehall), she travels to South America with nothing but a sacred arrowhead and a map. Upon arrival, the pair meets Frank Wolff (Johnson), a skipper who scams visitors with boat rides on the Amazon river. Lily is looking for a boat, Frank has a boat, and after a bit of manoeuvring and lying, the trio agree to be travel companions. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only ones looking for the petal, and Prince Joachim of Germany (Plemons) and 400-year-old Conquistador Aguirre (Ramírez) will make the journey more complicated.
Jungle Cruise clearly takes a lot of its cues from films like Indiana Jones, The Mummy, Romancing the Stone, and The African Queen. It fails to stand on its own with so much being pulled from earlier creative works, but that’s not a bad thing here. Jungle Cruise is as fun and hilarious as its inspirations, and the sparks between the lead actors pump life into this film. Individually, the Rock and Blunt are already incredibly charming, but as a duo, they create a rhythm of movement and sound that causes their dynamite chemistry to leap off-screen and smack you in the face. This is only enhanced by the fact that the two are distractingly attractive with the most electric smiles, which kept me grinning throughout.
The live-action Disney film is undoubtedly a step up for director Jaume Collet-Serra, whose previous films include the House of Wax (2005) and The Shallows (2016). He’s apparently developed a good working relationship with the Rock as he’s also directing Warner Bros.’ DC superhero film Black Adam. Collet-Serra’s dynamic and captivating direction captures the fast-paced action crisply and cleanly, avoiding the static, shaky-cam look that Disney films can sometimes be subject to. However, the cinematic highlight is Flavio Martínez Labiano’s cinematography. Every scene is perfectly lit and coloured in a strangely intoxicating way that gives the film that Hollywood Golden Age, 1950s cinematic look.
But for a film with so much going for it, some of the choices by writers Green, Ficarra, and Requa are baffling as hell. It’s mystery box madness that turns into a second act twist that is supposed to up the stakes but ends up stale and poorly utilised. Since Jungle Cruise is afraid to be risky (which, of course, isn’t something I should expect from Disney, but alas), wildly illogical circumstances protect the characters from actual harm — all of that just to create a backdoor for a possible sequel. This practice has become incredibly frustrating and frankly, a routine for Disney. Just write the damn script without thinking about what comes next.
Minus the script issues, Jungle Cruise has a lot going for it. That left me wondering what the writer’s choices were and what were Disney’s script-changing suggestions. My vibe while watching it all play out teetered between joy, confusion, and asking myself, “Why would they do that?!” Blunt and Johnson are the glue that holds this film together and are infinitely more interesting than what’s happening around them. Without them, Jungle Cruise would not have sustained through its two-hour runtime. I want them in more films together (not just a Jungle Cruise sequel).
Jungle Cruise is out in theatres on July 29 and Disney+ Premiere Access on July 30.