"It's not a fun vacation."
In 2003 I laughed audibly when I saw the trailer for Gore Verbinski's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The film, a franchise starter, proved to be brilliant, making me eat crow as I went along for an unexpected adventure.
When the trailer for Jaume Collet-Serra's Jungle Cruise came out, I knew I had learned my lesson. I looked forward to the epic trip down the Amazon, searching for the Tears of the Moon in an attempt to rid the world of sickness and disease.
The joke was on me. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Sporting the talents of Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, Jungle Cruise makes the most of the greatest unexpected duo of the summer. Though their respective characters, Captain Frank Wolff and Dr. Lily Houghton, are, at first, at great odds, their bickering is fun and lighthearted, more sibling frustration than actual outrage.
This approach allows the film to work - at least to the extent that it does. Adapted from the now revamped Disney ride of the same name, Jungle Cruise pulls a mountain of inspiration from blockbusters of the late 90s and early 2000s. Outside of the apparent Pirates of the Caribbean connection, there are indisputable calls to The Mummy and Indiana Jones films. All of them merge to form a movie that is more simple and fun than good.
After Lily steals an arrowhead that is said to unlock the Tears of the Moon, she enlists the help of a struggling Captain with an infinite number of dad jokes. Puns aside, the film sets its tone early, working the younger audience as Lily boards in dramatic fashion after her brother MacGregor (a painfully underutilized Jack Whitehall) confirms that she doesn't know how to swim.
With a submarine in hot pursuit, the newly formed team must work together to outwit the others, cementing the film within a rather frivolous world of myth and legend. As the onboard obstacles continue to stack up, the trio struggles to find a common level of trust.
When MacGregor, through innuendos, shares his sexuality with Frank, the moment is friendly. A building block to a deeper understanding, a key door of opportunity opened. But Collet-Serra stays clear, letting the moment fall quickly; thus, the proclamation appears as an afterthought.
Formulaic and one-dimensional, Jungle Cruise does find its footing during the overextended and dramatic third act - albeit briefly. As details come to the surface and a few of the absurd moments are somewhat justified, you catch a slight glimpse of the potential that exists within the framework of the Disney attraction.
However, this film, just like its inspirations, appears stuck in time. Without much effort, the story is sluggish, the antics unoriginal, and the resolutions uninspiring. Pandemic aside, audiences want and expect more. Though this film is cute, silly, and fun, there are too many options for such a designation to suffice. Johnson and Blunt, as well as Disney, know as much.
*This film is available theatrically and through Disney+ Premium Access.