REVIEW: ‘Jungle Cruise’ Brings the Action, Adventure, and… the Heat

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Jungle Cruise

While the Jungle Cruise attraction has been a staple of Disney parks since its Disneyland opening in 1955, the meandering boat ride through the jungle has very much been taken for granted. Though the ride has undergone many changes – from a serious nature tour to the now famous (infamous, depending on who you ask) pun-filled cruise – the Jungle Cruise ride is probably most well-known now for giving tired Disney parks visitors a much-needed rest. So what does Jungle Cruise bring to the table, given its sometimes lazy-river source material?

Jungle Cruise delivers an electric jolt to our Disney parks nostalgia and reminds us that there is magic to be found in the familiar. The film dusts off the cobwebs on a classic and brings thrilling action, adventure and excitement. Nothing lazy about this river! Jungle Cruise does more than just capture the spirit of the original ride; it rekindles an appreciation for it.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra, (House of Wax, The Shallows) sits at the helm of this adventure, with a fantastic screenplay by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa, putting his background in horror and thrillers to good use. The film stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt – we dare you not to fall in love with their charisma and chemistry – with Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Veronica Falcón, Edgar Ramírez, and Paul Giamatti

In Jungle Cruise, Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) is a formidable botanist that is determined to reach the depths of the Amazon to uncover an ancient mystery that could revolutionize the world of medicine. Despite being rejected by the scientific community, on account of her being a woman, Lily is undaunted and travels with her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) to seek adventure and prove herself. The pair enlists the services of Frank (Dwayne Johnson), a skipper and expert on navigating the Amazon. The only thing larger than Frank’s imposing physique is his personality and endless trove of jungle puns. Together, the unlikely friends set off in search of adventure with the perils of the jungle before them and a relentless madman in hot pursuit.

Let’s start by getting some necessary business out of the way. It’s near impossible to discuss Jungle Cruise without bringing into conversation that other famous franchise of action films, inspired by a Disney theme park attraction. I’m talking, of course, about Pirates of the Caribbean. While Pirates of the Caribbean remains one of this critic’s absolute favorite film series of all time, I firmly maintain that Jungle Cruise has perfected the formula of those films. Jungle Cruise improves upon the foundation of the massive action set pieces in Pirates and finds a balance between humor and family accessible horror elements that allows the film to truly reach viewers of any age. To put it plainly, Pirates of the Caribbean walked so that Jungle Cruise could run, frolic even.

A critical component of this distinction between Jungle Cruise and ride-to-film adaptations like The Haunted Mansion and the Pirates franchise is that Jungle Cruise not only understands the ride at its source, it leans into it. As mentioned at the outset, the attraction is beloved by fans but isn’t exactly taken seriously. Critics of the ride would call the gentle float tour boring, the setting inconsistent (hippos don’t live in the Amazon, y’all), and the puns so bad that guests should sign a waiver, “Disney is not responsible for strain and injury associated with continuous, aggressive eye-rolling.” Jungle Cruise doesn’t ignore or smooth over the rough elements of its source. It embraces them, enhances them, and forces you to recognize their charm. Humor is at the very center of Jungle Cruise, which all but guarantees big smiles and fun.

Independent of the ride, Jungle Cruise stands firmly on its own merits as an incredible action-adventure. The stakes are high, the stunts are impressive, and every close brush with danger leaves you with your heart racing! That being said, what really makes the film tick is its characters.

From top to bottom, the characters of Jungle Cruise are legitimately funny and instantly lovable (including those you love to hate). Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt) is a badass from the beginning and is instantly charming as our action heroine. Naturally, Dwayne Johnson is rock-solid and wins viewers over from his very first appearance but Skipper Frank gives the charismatic actor unique opportunities to play to greater depths – and who doesn’t like puns? There are so many puns.

More on the stars later because Blunt and Johnson are selling this, but some of the best character moments of Jungle Cruise come from further down the roster. Jack Whitehall’s MacGregor is a hilarious, prancing foil to the rugged and capable Frank and Lily and is an absolute joy to watch. Jesse Plemmons is always hilarious and endearingly bizarre and it’s good to see his unique brand of baddie at work in the film

If there is any weakness to be found in Jungle Cruise it is within the secondary set of bad guys. In addition to the madman prince that Jesse Plemons is bringing, our heroes are pursued by a monstrous crew of cursed conquistadors (“You best start believing in ride-to-film adaptations. You’re in one!” – but yeah, these guys are a Pirates knockoff). These villains are… fine. Just fine. As mentioned previously, Jaume Collet-Serra has a history with gross horror and heart-pounding danger so the jungle-ravaged damned soldiers are stomach-turning in their design. Aside from the cool visuals, these villains feel very “been there, done that.” Because we have been there and done that. This film will have enough Pirates comparisons without copy-pasting villains from the earlier franchise. It’s the same and unlike the rest of Jungle Cruise, not an improvement.

In case you’re cooling on Jungle Cruise, following that critique, rest assured that Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt will bring the heat. Yes, we’ve discussed the merits of their characters and performances – now let’s talk about chemistry. No doubt, the romance between Frank and Lily is THE spiciest coupling that could be dared in a family film. This critic was dusting off the sparks flying between their glances and their innuendo (parents, you will love it and your kids won’t get it). The romance of Jungle Cruise felt like a great, sweeping romance and it’s potent stuff. If The Mummy was your sensual awakening, this film is calling to you.

Jungle Cruise truly does have something for everyone. From Disney park devotees to new fans, theatergoers young and old, and families seeking a good time or daring film lovers pining for adventure. A pleasure cruise and a thrill ride, all rolled into one perfect package!

Jungle Cruise opens in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 30, 2021.

 

Jungle Cruise
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

Jungle Cruise truly does have something for everyone. From Disney park devotees to new fans, theatergoers young and old, and families seeking a good time or daring film lovers pining for adventure. A pleasure cruise and a thrill ride, all rolled into one perfect package!