Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Jungle Cruise

Given Disney's adaptation of Pirates of the Caribbean it's hard not to see similarities with Jungle Cruise as the studio attempts to turn another theme park ride into a motion picture. Jungle Cruise feels like a mix of Pirates with a bit of The Mummy (and several other films) thrown in for a wacky adventure in the Amazon.

We're first introduced to Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) who steal an artifact from the London Historical Society to search for a legend deep in the Amazon. Lily hopes to find the Tree of Life whose blossoms are rumored to be capable of curing any disease. Enlisting the help of an untrustworthy steamboat captain (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) the trio race to find the tree before a German aristocrat (Jesse Plemons) or centuries-old cursed jungle explorers (led by Édgar Ramírez).

Blunt is the real highlight here as the spirited scientist constantly overlooked and undervalued by the world around her as she defies conventions in order to prove the existence of the tree which she believes will help make the world a better place.

The Rock is, well, The Rock. Johnson is enjoyable here as the shameless skipper of a rundown boat who takes far more joy in his puns and dad jokes than the tourists he takes out on his jungle excursions. While he and Blunt make for a fun pairing, there's no romantic chemistry for them which leads to problems by the third act. Whitehall is mostly in place to react as the fish out of water dragged to the jungle by his sister, although the film throws his paper-thin character a bit of a bone late in the film. Most of the supporting characters are wildly over-the-top including Paul Giamatti. Veronica Falcón is thrown into the mix simply because there is a character on the ride called Trader Sam.

In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl the undead pirates were creepy cool whose true visage was displayed in the moonlight. And the curse made sense (at least for a fantasy-adventure film) with the pirates turned to starved shells of their former selves. Here we also get undead antagonists, but these are more just creepy weird as the movie offers us characters made out of snakes, bees, and a walking puddle. They turn out to be nothing more than walking CGI effects. How the curse affected them so differently is neither explored nor explained. Nor is the true motivation of these monsters. While the other characters all want to reach the tree for either selfish or altruistic reasons, the only purpose these explorers turned monsters had to find the tree turned to dust centuries ago. Perhaps they hope to end their curse, but they don't appear suicidal and now so far removed from human what kind of lives could they possibly live?

Neither as good as the best of the Pirates films nor as awful as its worst, Jungle Cruise is, like so much of The Rock's filmography, a so-so adventure film. It looks good, and there's some passable action sequences held together by Blunt and Johnson's barbs. The movie attempts to work in Tomb Raider or National Treasure style puzzle adventures with the mysticism of the legend which don't always mesh together (if the locals used magic to hide the tree why are our explorers fiddling around with man-made clues and contraptions to unlock its whereabouts?). Those looking to hide from the summer heat for a couple hours could do worse, but Jungle Cruise doesn't do anything to change the narrative that 2021 is one of the weakest movie summers in recent memory.

No comments: