Directed By Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring – Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramirez
The Plot – A rollicking thrill-ride down the Amazon with wisecracking skipper Frank Wolff (Johnson) and intrepid researcher Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt). Lily travels from London, England to the Amazon jungle and enlists Frank’s questionable services to guide her downriver on La Quila–his ramshackle-but-charming boat. Lily is determined to uncover an ancient tree with unparalleled healing abilities; possessing the power to change the future of medicine. Thrust on this epic quest together, the unlikely duo encounters innumerable dangers and supernatural forces, all lurking in the deceptive beauty of the lush rainforest. But as the secrets of the lost tree unfold, the stakes reach even higher for Lily and Frank and their fate, and mankind hangs in the balance.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action involving violence and peril
– Riveting direction. Collet-Serra is a very eclectic and multi-dimensional director who refuses to settle on one particular genre and corresponding style, but his work here for Disney proves he’s the right man for the job, all the while whisking us away on one of the most thrilling experiences for adventure in quite some time. Part of it is the emphasis to the camera and corresponding cinematography, which vividly immerses us not only in the elements of the environment, but also stitches together as many angles for the interpretation that vividly conveys emphasis in the story. However, for my money, it’s Collet-Serra’s scale in spectacle that is most indulging, taking this intimate, Jungle-established story, and fleshing it out in a way that creates universal stakes and resonance as a result of its evolving conflict. It captures all of the exhilaration to keep you gripped to its set pieces, all the while harvesting real dramatic circumstances along the way, and has me legitimately curious to see Jaume’s take on DC Comics’ “Black Adam”, which he will once again collaborate with his charismatic leading lad.
– Bountiful depth. For a movie based on a ride at a Disney theme park, I was remarkably stunned at the amount of palpable layers that accommodate the story in fleshing out a compelling narrative. Most evidential are the endearing characters, particularly Johnson and Blunt, whose endless banter and blossoming romance cement a measurable charm for the film that you can’t help but root for. On top of this, the lore and world-building of the 17th century setting itself cements a conflict and trail for the story that constantly keeps it from resting on the laurels of its occasionally familiar instances of relatability to the theme park ride during the first act, all the while taking ample time inside of its two hour run time to give conscience to the ensuing environment, which is every bit dangerous as it is shrouded in intriguing mystery.
– Surprising edginess. When I see a PG-13 rating for a Disney film, I can’t help but scoff at how they’re going to waste away the opportunity to render a kids tale with adult emphasis. After all, it was only last year when the awful “Mulan” couldn’t justify the same rating in the slightest, but here comes “Jungle Cruise” with a nourishing amount of peril that really helped to balance some of the various tonal shifts that the script occasionally took on. There’s little blood that is cleverly worked into a scheme within a certain characterization, but there is an abundance of stabbing, surreal imagery, and even adult underlining to the jokes, which I greatly appreciated in its approach to audiences of every age. It’s nothing that will redefine the ratings system, but it is a noticeably attention-stealing take for a studio often handicapped by the limitations of its pictures, and makes “Jungle Cruise” one of those pleasant call backs to action/adventure films of the 80’s and 90’s, where vulnerability stemmed from real on-screen influences making their presence felt in many colorful manners.
– Heavy lifting. As previously conveyed, Johnson and Blunt are a dynamic duo full of impeccable chemistry and vibrant personality that makes this a complimentary vehicle for each of their respective talents. For Johnson, we’ve seen plenty of his capabilities in the action and comedy genre’s, but here as Frank Wolff, we see the next evolution in Johnson’s transformational qualities, and one that with an array of dad jokes and cheap puns at his disposal does legitimately conjure theme park tour guides in the way they interact with their visitors. But while Johnson once again hands in another endearing turn, it’s Blunt who wholeheartedly stole the show while quite literally wearing the pants in the relationship, which become a talking point with every outdated male she comes across. Blunt’s refusal to sit by and become the latest in a list of victimized female protagonists is commendable enough, but it’s the unlimited heart and clumsiness that she adds to the dimensions of the character that is most defining, allowing her to step out of the immense shadow that Johnson’s physique and bigger than life personality presents.
– Costumes/Make-up. The choices made in defining production speak volumes to the 200 million dollars that makes up the film’s budget, and further establishes this transformational quality to the setting that is most evidently in every single shot. Our trio of leads show off white button up shirts and blouses with carpenter khaki’s that are a commonplace of South American culture, and their indigenous counterparts moving in and around the never-ending jungle combine enough war paint and free-flowing gowns that perfectly captures the consistency of its people, rendering them as one cohesive unit that is continuously unmatched and unblemished with even the slightest error in its eye-stretching tribes. It creates a unique style for the film that is most apparent in distinguishing itself from similar Disney properties of the same structure, proving most intoxicating on the versatility of its schemes and respective armies that even ten paragraphs couldn’t paint appropriately.
– Shape-shifting twist. Even in a film that I felt was easily detectable in overtly revealing marketing, it still managed to harvest one jaw-dropping secret that I honestly didn’t see coming despite the abundance of clues that should’ve told me differently. Despite its surprising factor being satisfactory to my interpretation, it’s the way this twist reshapes the characters and the conflict for the film’s second half, redefining the stakes for the elusive prize in ways that now benefit each respective character for diversely impactful circumstances. Finally, I love the long-winded explanation that followed such a reveal. It’s a bit clumsy in the way it prescribes depth to a particular character, but considering it was right around the time when the story in the foreground was losing me, I appreciated its arrival and the shot of adrenaline that it afforded the pivotal climax of the movie.
– Jarring effects. Much of the unpopular decisions to the 200 million dollar budget that I previously mentioned comes in the form of lukewarm computer generation in animals and backdrops that take away the essence of authenticity from the movie’s immersive qualities. The big misfire on detail here is in the lack of detail in both the textures and color correction that respond to lighting and other environmental elements accordingly, often depicting its artificial properties with a breaching outline of inconsistency that breaks concentration at the wrong moments. As for the landscapes, they’re fine enough in scenery-stretching detail, but their grey shading gives a painting kind of feel to their influence that is a painful call back to movies of previous decades who did this all the time in live action rendering to save a few bucks from shooting on location. Looking at “Jungle Cruise”, very little about it feels enriched with believability, and the decisions made in an overtly inflated budget are the reasons to blame.
– Derivatively familiar. If occasional reminders were the biggest offense in this particular section, my problems would be limited, however the movie’s need to quite literally lift from predecessors of the genre illustrates an uninspiring content from Disney that affords them the liberty to rest on past prestigious properties. Most evidential here is “Pirates of the Caribbean”, which not only does this film feature an entire sequence from “At World’s End”, but it’s also easy to interpret Johnson’s quirky booze-guzzling Frank as Johnny Depp’s mumbling booze-guzzling Jack. The comparisons with Pirates doesn’t end there, but there’s also influences from movies like “The Mummy” (The good one) and especially “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, which is arguably the quintessential treasure hunt movie for 20th century cinema. It proves so little of originality to the intelligence of this film, which is unfortunately, for the majority, a series of reheated Disney leftovers that once tasted nourishing, but now ache in the pits of our stomach’s like painful reminders of the past.
– Frequently convoluted. “Jungle Cruise” quite often feels like two movies inside of its franchise that are stitched together to fool people into thinking quantity over quality. This is no more resonant than the revealing of two different antagonists, who steal and disrupt ample screen time from one another so often that it literally does feel like different films, tonally and creatively, in the confines of one installment. For my money, as much as I love Jesse Plemons, it’s the one with his German officer’s pursuit of Blunt that could’ve been easily sacrificed from the finished product, especially considering the conflict between Johnson and Ramirez’ Aguirre takes a personal turn once the twist I previously alluded to becomes common knowledge. On top of this, the former antagonist just doesn’t mesh as consistently with the tonal capacities of the third act, instead emoting a silliness that no audience member could or should take seriously as a legitimate threat to our trio of leads. With more focus on Aguirre, the stakes could’ve reached overwhelming levels of emphasis, but as it stands the conflict never fully commits itself to one side, giving us quite a few instances where each of them disappear during the moments when attention and characterization could’ve helped elude them of the one-dimensional antagonist tag.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-