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Film Review: Jungle Cruise

8 August 21 words: Emma Walsh

A film based on a theme park ride – we’ve seen it done before with Pirates of the Caribbean, but how did Disney fare with Jungle Cruise?

Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Édgar Ramírez
Running time: 127 minutes

Although the Disney World attraction practically lends itself to an adventure film adaptation, a fuller plot for Jungle Cruise was always going to have to be established for the film to make it to the big screen, and that’s exactly what’s been accomplished. 

Transport yourself back to 1916 and join Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), closely followed by her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), as they embark on a scientific mission across the Amazon to follow the legend of the Tears of the Moon, an ancient tree whose petals are said to harness the power to heal all ills. But, of course, they need a skipper to lead them across the dangerous Amazon River – enter Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson). That’s not to say they’re the only ones after the prize – Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), a German royal set on helping his country win the war, is hot on their tail and determined to win the race, using whatever tactics he deems necessary.

A lot of effort has clearly gone into the visuals of the film. Maybe it’s just that I’m in desperate need of a holiday after lockdown, but the emulation of the Amazon tropics was enough to make me want to be on that rickety steamboat, regardless of all the things that would no doubt try to kill me. Plus, the image of the Tears of the Moon in full bloom is a classic Disney ‘wow’ moment.

However, I think that the aspect of the film that really needs applause is the acting. Every actor plays their character to a tee, and this is part of what makes the film so fun to watch. Blunt is fantastic as the heroine of the story, a no-nonsense, downright determined woman making her way in a man's world, sure to inspire any young girl. Because of this, the chemistry between her character and Johnson’s is that much more enjoyable, as they bicker back and forth in a constant battle of wits.

Jam-packed full of adventure at every turn, bringing together a group of characters who all bounce off each other well

Plemons, too, plays his character fantastically, finding that balance as the threatening but bratty villain, whose tantrums and bluntness become another source of comedy. But let’s not forget about Whitehall, who is wonderfully British throughout, to an extent that makes you wonder if he’s actually acting or if that’s just how he is. Although the comic relief character, he’s possibly the most relatable one… I mean, I’m sure we’d all have packed reserve snacks for the trip as well. And to round off an unexpectedly stellar cast, prepare to get overly attached to a CGI character in Proxima the jaguar.

The film is exactly what it sets out to be. It’s jam-packed full of adventure at every turn, and brings together a group of characters who all bounce off each other well. The only issue is that the plot seems to get a little too complex as more villains are added to the mix. Nilo Nemolato (Paul Giamatti) was clearly a minor antagonist as the greedy yet difficult man in charge of the harbour, but it was when Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez), the Spanish conqueror who’s bearing a 400-year-old grudge, comes into the mix that it becomes a little less obvious as to whether he or Prince Joachim is meant to be the main villain. My only other question would be whether the plot twist regarding Frank is really all that necessary.

So, is Jungle Cruise really the blockbuster of the summer? I’d say so, and, in classic Disney style, it’s enjoyable for both kids and adults alike. Jungle Cruise really is your classic adventure film, with slight Indiana Jones vibes meeting a protagonist dynamic reminiscent of that in The Mummy. It’s got thrashing river rapids, terrible tribespeople and Dwayne Johnson wrestling a jaguar. Honestly, what more could you ask for?

Did you know? Plans for an adaptation of the Jungle Cruise ride began in 2004 following the success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean film. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen were each originally considered as stars until Dwayne Johnson was cast in 2015.

Jungle Cruise is in cinemas and on Disney+ now

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