Like me, you'd be forgiven for not being excited for Jungle Cruise. I love Disney just as much as the next person, but this isn't the ride I was clamouring to see a movie about. Also, while I enjoy and appreciate Dwayne Johnson and what he does, his performances aren't exactly memorable. It wasn't until Juame Collet-Serra and Emily Blunt were announced as part of the project that I became somewhat interested.
I ordered the film with low expectations, but as always, left any preconceptions behind before hitting play. The thing I never expected to write was that I enjoyed Jungle Cruise so much that I watched it again the very next day. This isn't a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it delivers a fun family adventure that clicks in all the right ways.
Jungle Cruise tells the story of Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), a botanist searching for the mythical Tears of the Moon, a tree with magical healing petals. Joining her is MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), her brother, and Frank (Dwayne Johnson), the riverboat captain they hire to take them on their search. Along the way, they are chased by the nefarious Prince Joachim and a trio of cursed Conquistadors.
Collet-Serra, perhaps best known for his work on darker titles such as Orphan and The Shallows, does an admirable job behind the camera and shoots the film in a way that makes you feel like you're on an amusement park ride. His ability to show diversity in genre and scale has increased my hopes for his next feature, another collaboration with The Rock, DC's Black Adam.
The performers are all tremendous and do well to elevate the material beyond what was written. Dwayne Johnson is oddly believable as the pun-telling captain as his charm and confidence are perfectly suited to the role. I'll need to sit on it a while longer, but I'm not sure that I've enjoyed Johnson more in a live-action movie since 2013. That's not to say he hasn't done anything good since then, but too many of those Skyscraper/Rampage type roles all bleed together, whereas this one stands out.
Emily Blunt is her usual fantastic self and is the heart of this film. Her rapport with Johnson is charming, and the fun she is having here jumps through the screen. The same can be said about Jack Whitehall, who arguably undergoes the biggest character transformation from start to finish. He blends perfectly with his co-leads, is multidimensional, and made me laugh as much as anyone else.
Jesse Plemons hits just the right levels of cartoonishness as Prince Joachim. He's threatening enough for Disney film, and I appreciated the Hans Landa vibes he was channelling. However, the other group of antagonists, lead by Edgar Ramírez, leave a lot to be desired. I loved the mythology and world-building that the film does, a great deal of which ties closely into that story thread, but it's not given as much time and attention as it probably should have.
As far as gripes, I thought the VFX looked subpar for a $200 million film. There was more than enough time and money allotted to this project that you'd expect it to look better than something from the early aughts. Additionally, I found James Newton Howard's score to be a bit too 'on-the-nose.' It didn't enhance the scenes so much as hit you over the head with generically stereotypical adventure music. Beyond that, though, I'd really be nitpicking.
Overall, Jungle Cruise is funny, charming, and generally a rollickingly good time from start to finish. Maybe I would have been tougher on it in the past, but after the past year and a half, a light, old-school adventure film is exactly what I needed. It's not groundbreaking and isn't without fault, but the performances and direction did more than enough to make this a film I'd gladly recommend and revisit.