After Cinderella and Cruella, it’s safe to say that the Disney film season is well and truly back, and now, we have its latest, a film based on a ride in its theme park. It’s about a London botanist Dr Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), who, along with her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), embarks on an ambitious journey into the exotic Amazon forest in search of a mystical Tree of Life. If myths are to be believed, she knows, the quest will likely not be a smooth ride. But if a single petal from a flower can cure all illnesses in the world, the dangers may well be worth it, Lily reasons. The sister-brother duo hires Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), a steamboat skipper, to help them get to the secret location.
It all sounds like the setup for a potentially exhilarating adventure. The set design is lavish and detailed, the special effects are great... A great adventure film seems like it’s in the making. Jungle Cruise also seems to be paying tribute to, or borrowing, from some hit adventure films. The doctors stepping into the Amazon in search of a mythical something is a reminder of Anaconda: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid. Johnson’s Frank, meanwhile, feels like a distant uncle of Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean.
Even the idea of the undead soldiers imprisoned by the forest feels like an echo of an earlier experience.
You wait for this film to move on from the expected to the unexpected, but this transition never happens. The predictability of the screenplay stops the highs from ever lasting long. With such a film, you know that grisly threats will come by, issues will crop up among the group members, and an unlikely hero will emerge… These are all tropes of the genre, but the problem with this film is how it never delivers on its early promise of adrenaline rush. It never matches up to the excitement of the ride it’s based on.
The performances of the lead characters aren’t the problem though. As always, Dwayne Johnson steps up with his presence and witty humour to elevate some scenes. Jesse Plemons makes a mark as Prince Joachim, a German royal in search of the Tree of Life, and his subplot is a strength of this film. Emily Blunt excels too, and really makes you root for Lily, but sadly, she’s without support from the writers of this film.
At best, Jungle Cruise serves as a dull reminder of the highs this genre can offer when executed well. It feels, after all, like a mishmash of Mummy, Pirates of the Caribbean, Anaconda, and the Indiana Jones films. However, the joys in this one aren’t very many. Dwayne Johnson tries his best, but this time, for once, you don’t really want to smell what he’s cooking.
Film: Jungle Cruise
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons