Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 7 minutes, Director – Jaume Collet-Serra
Avid explorer Lily (Emily Blunt), alongside brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), enlists the help of boat skipper Frank (Dwayne Johnson) to take them down the Amazon, in the hope of finding a tree with petals with advanced healing powers.
As explorer Lily (Emily Blunt) gently cruises down the Amazon river, gazing at the many sights and colours on display, she comments to boat skipper Frank (Dwayne Johnson) that “it’s like drifting through the Garden of Eden”. While this isn’t quite the look and feel that Jungle Cruise creates for the viewer it certainly captures the theme park ride essence and spirit that inspired it. You can’t help but get caught up in the scenery which feels as if it could be directly taken from the long-standing Disneyland attraction. There are certainly plenty of moments, particularly within the film’s first act, where sequences of constant action, escapes and close calls give the impression that the film is trying to give the audience a feeling of being on a ride, with constant thrills and little room to properly breathe in-between them.
However, as things slightly calm down and the crew, which also consists of Lily’s much posher brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), the narrative is put further in place. Frank has been recruited to take the siblings down the Amazon so that Lily can find a mysterious petal known as the ‘tears of the moon’; said to have complete healing powers, which could revolutionise medicine. Unfortunately, the trio aren’t the only people searching for the petals. Hot on their tails, equipped with missile-launching submarine is German Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who desires to use the petals to win the ongoing First World War. Tracing the steps of doomed 16th century conquistadors in hope of fulfilling his seemingly self-set mission.
There’s a lot going on in the film, and it certainly fills up the 127 minute run-time that it holds. Yet, focus does sometimes seem to shift every now and then from the core story and the various characters involved in it to a focus on an apparent connection between Lily and Frank. While Blunt and Johnson play convincing friends, where the film feels most comfortable with the characters’ relationship, when a romantic interest begins to come into play things slightly come apart. It’s not that their performances are bad – although Johnson, despite his ever-present charisma, doesn’t quite feel like the right choice for his role as a fraudulent and deceptive boat captain; certain moments come crashing down when revealed to be one of Frank’s elaborate setups – simply that the romantic line the film wants to create for them feels less preferable to the simply friendly bond that’s initially set up between the two.
It’s evident that Jungle Cruise had a big budget (around $200 million). It shows in much of the scenery, and some of the spectacle. And while, as already mentioned, there’s a certain visual flair to the piece the spectacle doesn’t always fully engage you. There’s not always a chance to properly drink it in as the camera cuts and changes so frequently – particularly during action sequences – and often doesn’t appear to have a proper focus, creating a dizzying distance from the film and the unfolding action at that moment.
Much like the narrative certain elements appear to have been seen before and don’t quite grab the viewer as much as the the cast and crew would perhaps hope. The film as a whole isn’t exactly bad, and there are certainly some watchable moments; it simply feels rather weak at certain intervals, and often feels as if it’s packing a bit too much in in certain scenes and sequences. The visual nature alone is simply not enough to keep you engaged within the exotic environment that surrounds the boat for large portions of the run-time. While the theme park look is a plus for Jungle Cruise, the occasional attempted style isn’t. Causing many moments to feel too chaotic and dizzying as you try to keep track of the action, and then the rather familiar plot on top of it.
Amongst the better films based on Disney theme park rides, Jungle Cruise both benefits and falters because of its theme park stylings. The performances and look are good, but the action and narrative often lack engagement.