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Movie Review: Jungle Cruise
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Jungle Cruise
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Writers: Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Édgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 127 Minutes
Release Date: July 30, 2021

Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise attraction has been thrilling visitors since it first opened in 1955. The beloved ride, which simulates a riverboat expedition through Asia, Africa, and South America, expanded to Walt Disney World in 1971, Tokyo Disneyland in 1983, and Hong Kong Disneyland in 2005. Now, following in the tracks of Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and Tomorrowland, the popular, pun-fueled ride is getting a big-budget film adaptation.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (House of Wax, The Shallows) and set at the height of World War I, Jungle Cruise stars Dwayne Johnson (Moana, Jumanji) as Frank Wolff, the gruff but charming skipper of the riverboat La Quila. Frank is enlisted by British botanist Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt of Mary Poppins Returns and A Quiet Place) to guide her down the deepest and most dangerous parts of the Amazon in search of the legendary Tree of Life, which possesses healing powers that could revolutionize modern medicine.

Joining them is Lily’s younger brother (and reluctant assistant) MacGregor (Jack Whitehall of Good Omens), a dapper gentleman whose heart is in the right place, even if he doesn’t have the stomach for adventure. On their quest, the trio must contend with wild animals and harsh environments in addition to Frank’s cutthroat competitor Nilo Nemolato (Paul Giamatti), the cursed conquistador Captain Aguirre (Édgar Ramírez), and the deranged Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons).

Drawing inspiration from The African Queen, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Romancing the Stone, The Mummy (1999), and the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Jungle Cruise is a fun throwback action-adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously. While there are many references to the ride — including an appearance by Trader Sam (Veronica Falcón) — the screenplay by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa fleshes out the story with enough mythology and world-building to sustain what will no doubt be Disney’s next big franchise.

Jungle Cruise is the perfect vehicle for Dwayne Johnson — the first film in the wrestler-turned-actor’s impressive filmography to take full advantage of his star power. Johnson has starred in action movies (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw), comedies (Central Intelligence), and family films (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), but as Frank, the charismatic star can showcase his full range as a leading man, with equal opportunities to be tough, funny, endearing, and sincere.

Johnson is perfectly matched with the always-fantastic Blunt — the friction between their characters creates a spark that carries the whole movie and gives emotional weight to the set pieces and computer-generated spectacle. Jesse Plemons (Game Night, The Irishman) is delightful as the villain of the piece, Joachim, an eccentric German aristocrat traversing the Amazon in a submarine. Joachim vacillates between wildly peculiar and quietly menacing, and it’s clear Plemons is having a blast chewing up the scenery.

Production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos (Hercules, The Lost City of Z), costume designer Paco Delgado (Les Misérables, Glass) and visual effects supervisors Jake Morrison and Jim Berney bring the massive world of Jungle Cruise to life, creating the bustling river town of Porto Velho, the Trader Sam’s treetop village, and Frank’s rickety steamboat with eye-popping detail. The result is a $200 million blockbuster where you scan see every dollar up on the big screen.

Jungle Cruise is a hugely entertaining hodgepodge of classic adventure films that more than succeeds at its goal of adapting Disney’s signature attraction into a live-action blockbuster. It isn’t perfect — the action sequences, while cleverly constructed, can feel exhaustive — but any issues with pacing or bloat are far outweighed by the film’s strengths, namely the undeniable chemistry between Johnson and Blunt. Collet-Serra’s film is the cant-miss thrill ride of the summer. If you’ve been waiting for a reason to return to movie theaters, this is it.

Adam’s Rating: 4 out of 5

Disney’s Jungle Cruise releases in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 30, 2021.

Trailer

Follow Adam on Twitter — @AdamFrazier

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