Jungle Cruise Review The Nerdy Basement

Jungle Cruise Review: A Lighthearted Romp That Doesn’t Do Enough To Separate Itself From Familiar Fantasy Fare

Jungle Cruise is a fun light-hearted romp in the vein of The Pirates of the Caribbean, The Mummy, and Indiana Jones films; though it doesn’t do enough to separate itself from familiar big-budget fantasy fare.

One of the most appealing things about “Jungle Cruise” is its principle cast. If that is enough for you to sit down and watch the film, you are probably going to enjoy it. It should come as no surprise that Dwayne Johnson steals the show as the lovable, charismatic, down on his luck ship captain, Frank Wolff. At this point, I wonder if there is any type of action-adventure movie Johnson cannot do, as he seems well-suited for almost everything he tries. With “Jungle Cruise” you get what Johnson does best, smile, crack jokes, and punch people in the face – nothing more, nothing less.

This works perfectly well for a movie that could very well have started as a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel and re-written to add Johnson. As it contains many of the same story beats. A roguish captain meets a troubled party, who is tangled up with one-dimensional bad guys with vague aspirations, add a dash of the supernatural, a pinch of lying and untrustworthiness, and the Rogue becomes the hero and saves the day. 

Jungle Cruise Review The Nerdy Basement
Image: Disney

In addition to Johnson, Emily Blunt takes co-lead of the film, as Lily Houghton, a female Indiana Jones type, or if you prefer, an Evelyn (The Mummy) or Elizabeth Swan (POTC) type character. Blunt does a perfectly good job in this role, being a capable female hero who must push forward through the same “women can’t do…” schtick that Hollywood has beaten to death countless times.

Like Johnson, Blunt is charming and fun to watch, and together they have enough chemistry to enjoy their interactions, but there is something about the relationship that seems too forced. If the leads of an action-adventure movie are of the opposite sex we expect that they will couple up, but it doesn’t really work here.

It would have been like if Jack Sparrow and Elizabeth Swan became a couple, there needed to be a Will Turner in this film, and the only person that fit in Jungle Cruise was Jack Whitehall’s character, Macgregor, but this would have been problematic as he is Lily’s brother. That being said, Jack Whitehall was underutilized, typically hilarious in his films, he is sidelined as a foppish auxiliary character. Jesse Plemons, who plays the villainous Prince Joachim, does such a fantastic job at playing such an over-the-top character that he is one of the best parts of the film, though his role is little more than a ridiculous Bond villain.

The second part of the film that works well is the general action-adventure of the movie. There are big-budget shootouts, explosions, supernatural fight scenes, and a large, but ultimately bloodless, body count. The main premise of the movie works well enough, there is a curse that needs breaking and a McGuffin that needs finding.

Ultimately “Jungle Cruise” hits every beat that it should in order to be a successful and fun action-adventure fantasy comedy, but it does so with such transparency that it loses its whimsy. It doesn’t take long for us to figure out the twists and turns of the film, and the biggest “twist” is that Johnson’s aloof ship captain is a cursed four-hundred-year-old conquistador.

Jungle Cruise Review The Nerdy Basement
Image: Disney

That being said, what I appreciate about the film is the historically accurate portrayal of the conquistadors, as they were brutal colonizers who essentially murdered anyone they wanted. That being said, Johnson’s character is the only morally good conquistador, is a little heavy-handed. Of course in a Disney film “good guys” must be good, and “bad guys” must be bad, but to not have Johnson have to make amends seems like a lost opportunity to make some real comments about colonialism and the exploration of the “new world.” It would have been nice if this movie had made some sort of social commentary, given the subject matter.

My biggest gripe with “Jungle Cruise” is that when we see the return of the, now cursed, conquistadors they are all given various special powers for some vague reason about them becoming part of the jungle. This seems completely unnecessary, as they were already immortal soldiers. Granted this makes them more intimidating at times, especially with the one who becomes disembodied snakes, and the one who seems to become the trees themselves; but at other times this idea is bizarre and stupid, particularly with the one who become bees and honey, and other who becomes mud.

It’s as though the writers thought each of them should have powers, but could only think of two good ideas. This idea does not ruin the film, but it definitely weakens it. Ultimately, “Jungle Cruise” is mindless fun, it’s Disney’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, it will likely not be anyone over the age of twelve’s favorite movie, but it’s surprisingly good. It’s a spiritual successor to the Pirates franchise, which adds a bit of freshness to the formula, as I’m not sure anyone is aching for a new Pirates film.

Finally, it’s the license to come back and make another three of these films, in which parents will likely line up to take their kids to something that is appropriate and enjoyable enough for them to watch, that isn’t thirty films and ten television shows deep into its mythos. At the very least it might open the doorway to younger viewers who find themselves looking for films of the same ilk, and may accidentally stumble into something great.

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