Ever since Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney has been trying to find their next adventure franchise. The series that was based on their ride of the same name became one of their biggest hit, and ever since, the studio has hoped to recreate this experiment with other rides. Jungle Cruise is poised to be what Disney has been looking for all those years. While not on the same level as the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, Jungle Cruise is one of those films that will be a crowd-pleaser and one that kids will enjoy.
Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her younger brother, McGregor Houghton (Jake Whitehall), 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.
What makes this film work is the chemistry between its three leads. Especially with Johnson and Blunt, who get the most to do. It isn’t lost on anyone that they are two of the most charismatic actors working right now, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the two of them together works so well. Sure, Johnson plays the same character he always does. The charismatic and witty figure that we all expect now, but he is so good at doing that character that once again, it works. Pairing him with Blunt, who is able to go toe to toe with him, is a great concept. Adding to that, Whitehall, who is mostly known for his standup at this point, provides some great comedic moments. This film shouldn’t work that well, and the reason why it does is because of the trio.
Jesse Plemmons, who portrays the villain of the film Prince Joachim, is having the time of his life with this role. Being so big compared to the other characters of the film, he never feels like he is in another film like some villains do. It’s over the top at times, and you can’t help but feel like it might be out of place, and yet, because of how good Plemmons is, you can’t but be entertained.
The cast brings something to this film that without it, it simply would not have worked. It is clear that everyone involved elevated the project to something it wasn’t on paper. They made the best with what they had. But that being said, there is one thing that this film did that simply made me so angry…
Disney tends to pat itself on the back for every small step it does. How many times have we heard about their first gay character over the last five years? (I have stopped counting, but it has to be more than five.) But what Disney always promoted as their first gay character was nothing but a throwaway line or moment that got deleted in certain countries. Never was it something to be proud of, and yet, the studio always seemed to be. When promoting this film, it became known that Jungle Cruise would have what Disney was billing as their first openly gay character. (Yes, another first one…) Jack Whitehall, who plays said character, said he was proud of that coming-out scene, making him the first openly gay character in a Disney movie. After seeing the film, I can say that this is once again Disney patting itself on the back for no reason at all. That “coming-out scene” is one or two lines where the word gay is never pronounced. The character is stereotypical portrayal is the most explicit thing about the fact that he is gay, yet Disney wants us to praise them for this portrayal. The thing is, we shouldn’t. This isn’t groundbreaking, this isn’t something to be proud of. It’s lazy, and we shouldn’t accept it. We should demand more than what they give us and stop trying to make a throwaway line that will get edited out in other countries such a big thing.
The major problem with Jungle Cruise is that it is so fast, and yet, you feel it’s two hours runtime. The reason for that? It is because the film has so much to establish. It needs to give us a backstory on the curse, then establish the characters, then go on the adventure while also continuing to expand the legend of what they are looking for. It has so many stories that the film just feels bloated. Having too much in the film throws it off balance, forcing it to overstay its welcome. But even with all of that, the ending feels rushed. It feels like they ran out of time to wrap everything up. They had so many stories to wrap up that in the end, they ended up rushing through all of them, and it leaves you unsatisfied.
Jungle Cruise isn’t perfect, but it is entertaining enough that it might just give Disney what they have been looking for for a while now. A franchise aimed at children that also promotes their rides. It’s over the top with CGI that doesn’t always hold up, but the chemistry between the three leads and a fantastic Jesse Plemmons helps it ride along the river to end up being pretty entertaining from start to finish.