Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has come a long way in his career and the man definitely knows how to sell himself and the product he stands with. Disney’s Jungle Cruise is a great opportunity for Johnson to build this franchise that has a few striking similarities to Pirates of the Caribbean. However, this movie used some of the bad parts of said franchise, sprinkled a bit of atrocious Indian Jones and The Crystal Skulls CGI, and drained all the well-known charisma from Johnson to a shockingly low level.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra with the writing done by Glen Ficarra and John Requa, the story follows Lily and MacGregor Houghton (Emily Blunt and Jake Whitehall). The two must find the “MacGuffin” and along the way require the aid of Frank Wolff (Johnson). The plot seems simple, right? Well, it is – with a couple of twists that try to build an obvious connection to the main baddy Aguirre played by Edgar Ramirez.
Emily Blunt’s acting is great in Jungle Cruise. Her character is given a lot to work with and is primarily set as the central focus for most of the movie. Her performance reminds me of Rachel Weisz’s Evelyn Carnahan from The Mummy 2 where she’s more of a veteran explorer from the jump. Whitehall is well suited in a supporting role and is akin to a damsel in distress that helps add a decent amount of comedy to Jungle Cruise.
The story itself is helpful to keep some level of interest going. Blunt and Johnson are in a race against Jesse Plemons’s Prince Joachim and Aguirre which allows the storyline to move almost at breakneck speed. This was troublesome at times because I couldn’t get a sense of how the “MacGuffin” benefits the bad guys. I understood the motivation for Blunt’s and Johnson’s character, but I found it head-scratching whenever the threat of Prince Joachim or Aguirre achieving their goal was brought up.
One thing that is positive and negative at the same time is the direction. Jungle Cruise will make you feel like you’re on an updated version of the ride – cranking it to a hundred and thirty knots. Collet-Serra has a great vision when directing an adventure story to keep people entertained for the two-hours-and-some-change movie. The problem with that is it can be exhausting when at the 40-minute mark and that’s amplified with A LOT of unnecessary quick cuts.
It felt like I had run a marathon – and wasn’t given enough time to catch a breather.
Sadly, this continues in Jungle Cruise and makes some of the movie dizzying to watch. There were several cuts to people’s reactions or simple movements that rarely gave me the scope of the scene I was watching. It was like I had my head in a Classic ViewMaster and the person controlling the reel never thought to let me see what the f*** I was looking at. It makes me wonder why the movie was over two hours long if the director wasn’t going to let me try to enjoy the jungle scenario.
Another big issue in this movie is the CGI. It is a Disney production, and the effects don’t feel up to snuff. There are a few scenes that look great in the practical sense. The big getaway action set piece involving Johnson, Blunt, Whitehall running from Paul Giamatti’s character and his goons is a clear example of movie magic. It showcases the effort put into the scene to give it a real-world experience.
Yet, after that, most of the Jungle Cruise straight looks like it was half-heartedly made in a green screen room. I know the studio wouldn’t allow the cast and crew to shoot in a real-life jungle, but they could’ve done a more convincing job.
So… Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I’ve been a fan of this guy’s work since the early days of his wrestling career. I followed him through his Rocky Maivia years, Nation of Domination, all way to the tail end of his regular staple as The Rock. I even enjoy his acting career (some of y’all need to check out Southland Tales). The dude knows his brand and knows how to market it well with a level of charm that helped make him a household name. The issue of Johnson’s role in this movie is that – for a lack of a better word – he’s boring.
Johnson is given depth and even some level of playfulness, but the man doesn’t do anything with it. There were three modes his character was in for most of the movie: Dad joke connoisseur, conman, and adventurous boat captain. All these were done with a low groggy / ASMR voice that lacks enough emotion to make me give a shit. I cared even less when his character’s background and intentions were revealed near the end.
I’m not asking for Johnson to carry the same energy he’s known for, but Jungle Cruise would’ve benefited if he used 30-40% of it.
Disney might have another money-making franchise on their hands if a sequel is greenlit, but things have to change to keep interest high. Jungle Cruise will give the audience that “wild ride” feeling during the movie – but it just needs a little more life put into its leading man and effects. I’m sure kids will love it and it will give parents a 2-hour long break from adulting. Just don’t expect anything special from this movie or something that hasn’t already been done in Pirates of the Caribbean, Indian Jones, or even Romancing the Stone.