Jungle Cruise Synopsis: Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) enlists the aid of wisecracking skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to take her down the Amazon in his ramshackle boat. Together, they search for an ancient tree that holds the power to heal — a discovery that will change the future of medicine.
Most business decisions have swayed in Disney’s favor (owning Marvel and Star Wars gives the studio unprecedented power), but the famed House of Mouse is still searching for their voice in live-action films. A plethora of uninspired remakes (Dumbo and Beauty and the Beast) and unsuccessful risks (John Carter and A Wrinkle in Time) have defined Disney’s so-so live-action track record of late, with studio executives still searching for their next Pirates of the Caribbean-type franchise starter.
Following a similar “based on a theme park ride” conception, Disney’s latest swashbuckling adventure, Jungle Cruise, seems like a step in the right direction. With two megastars and a refreshing old-school premise in tow, director Jaume Collet-Serra presents a promising change-up from modern blockbuster tendencies – only to fall for every tired standard in the book. It saddens me to report it, but Jungle Cruise’s Disneyfied sense of adventure never truly ignites.
When Jungle Cruise shows signs of life, the film whisks audiences back to the breezy fun synonymous with blockbusters of yesteryear. Collet-Serra’s genre pedigree makes him an apt fit for the material’s spirited energy. He imbues swift movements into the roaring setpieces, infusing enough visceral spark to compensate for these frames’ generic conception. The film also bolsters several scene-stealers in its supporting cast. Jesse Plemmons hits deliciously wicked notes as the mustache-twirling villain, while Paul Giamatti and Jack Whitehall deliver as much-needed comedic foils. These actors are self-aware about the material’s campy shortcomings, cleverly leaning into its goofiness to heighten the melodrama.
Surprisingly enough, it’s Jungle Cruise’s charismatic leads that don’t quite connect. Dwayne Johnson presents his usual smolder and Emily Blunt showcases deft comedic timing, but neither actor earns enough development within their flatly-conceived roles. Ineffective banter and route dramatic scenes prevent the duo from developing much in terms of chemistry, although most of the blame there would be on the flat screenplay. Collaborated on by three writers, Jungle Cruise presents a busy yet incredibly airless narrative, one that relies solely on mudane lore and obvious plot turns to engineer interest. None of the characters connect enough to mask the screenplay’s autopilot nature.
Jungle Cruise also falls short in its form of blockbuster adventure. Collet-Serra’s sturdy filmmaking is offset by a murky overkill of expensive special effect designs. For a story centered around high-steak adventure, the film lands with an overproduced, studio-mandated aroma that prevents genuine excitement. I wanted to support an earnest hommage like this, but the film merely dips its toe into the swashbuckling pastiche without possessing a clear direction within it.
Mileage will vary, but Jungle Cruise’s inert vision left me at a constant disconnect. None of the promising pieces connect as well as they should for this failed franchise-starter. Still, I would rather see Disney take a sincere risk like this compared to another live-action remake.
Jungle Cruise premiers in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access on July 30.
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