My thoughts on the new Jungle Cruise movie:
I do think it’s the type of movie that can be fun if you don’t think about it too much. While there were strengths there were also a number of weird choices which ultimately had me scratching my head and wondering what on earth was going on in this movie.
Going into the new Jungle Cruise movie, it felt like this live action film probably had a lot going for it – two strong stars with Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson, Disney behind it, based on a popular attraction, and previews that looked exciting. I wasn’t expecting the greatest masterpiece ever going into it, but I thought it would be good. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this film once I got into it, and I had a hard time deciding if I liked it or not for a bit. While there were strengths there were also a number of weird choices which ultimately had me scratching my head and wondering what on earth was going on in this movie.
There will be some spoilers in this review because it’s hard to talk about the pros and cons in my opinion without sharing exactly why I felt a certain way. I don’t think this is the type of movie that is make or break of your enjoyment based on spoilers, but if you like to avoid them I suggest coming back to read this once you’ve seen the movie!
The strength of this film was not in the story or the script, unfortunately. Half the time I had to wonder to myself, “what is going on right now??” We’ve got a crew of conquistadors who had a curse placed on them hundreds of years ago which turns them immortal – and most of them have spent the last 100+ years trapped in a cave for so long that they are now part skeleton/bees/maggots/snakes/etc. In case you couldn’t tell from that description, it felt like the movie was trying a bit too hard to be the next Pirates of the Caribbean. It is also apparently very similar to The Mummy, a movie I have to admit I have not seen.
Of course in addition to that we have a gung-ho kick-butt female (Lily, played by Emily Blunt) who wants to find the magic tree petals to help save humanity and cure illnesses. She goes out on a mission to find these plants and hires Frank (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to take her there. Seems straight forward enough… but don’t forget this is in 1916 during WWI/The Great War, and of course there’s a crazy German chasing us wanting the magic petals to win the war! He’s not technically a Nazi but he may as well have been since he fits the odd film “comedy Nazi” role well. Oh, and also Paul Giamatti is there for a bit too.
Ultimately I found the story to be a bit too ridiculous for me, but I can understand why some people may enjoy it. That being said, there is one moment I can definitely point to and say that this was just a bit too much (I think the phrase I used while watching it was “I can’t.”). There is a scene where they need to push some buttons and turns some wheels and such to open a secret door, but it’s all underwater. Since Frank is immortal he doesn’t need to breathe underwater, but he’s too big to fit in so Lily will have to do it. Lily can’t swim though, so Frank heroically carries her down. There’s still the part where she actually needs to breathe and won’t have enough time to do everything while underwater… so of course Frank pulls the “let me breathe some oxygen into your mouth” (!). She swims back about 3 times while working to “go get more oxygen” aka make out with him (I’m also not a scientist by any means, but how much oxygen does this guy exhale? Why is he exhaling oxygen at all if he doesn’t need to breathe?).
On the plus side for the script, I did like how they incorporated the Jungle Cruise puns. They are just as cheesy and groan-worthy as ever, but it would be hard to make a Jungle Cruise movie and just ignore them. So embracing the awfulness of those jokes and playing them up was the right move.
The main strength of this movie lies in the characters, or more specifically the talented actors who bring them to life. Emily Blunt as Lily and Dwayne Johnson as Frank both do a great job, and surprising scene stealer is Jack Whitehall as Lily’s brother MacGregor. Lily and Frank were interesting characters – it would have been easy to make them predictable or one dimensional, but the actors were able to give them some more depth. Both kind of came off as the “loveable jerk” type and it worked.
I think it would have been easy for the writers to make Lily in particular a bit of “Mary Sue” character – in the beginning I was definitely getting the vibe that she was supposed to be this kick-ass character, the cliché female who rebels from society and chooses to wear pants and go adventures and of course do everything better than men. But her character makes some mistakes and misjudgments too, and I appreciated that these more realistic character aspects were included instead of just having her be right about everything.
One reason why this film isn’t a complete and utter disaster is because there is pretty decent chemistry between Blunt and Johnson. They had the typical sort of relationship where they butted heads a bit at first because they are both stubborn, but then they grew on each other. It was cute the way they called each other “Pants” and “Skippy,” and the way they looked at each other sometimes said a lot even without dialogue.
However, they’re “all in” romance felt a little bit sudden to me. They spent maybe a couple of days, a week, on a boat together and now they’re ready to sacrifice everything for the other (especially Lily’s choice towards the end of the film). I know that’s typical movie romance but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. 😉 But I’m guessing in 1916 if you’re a ballsy female who wears pants and takes charge it’s probably hard to find a guy who appreciates that. And if you’re a 400 year old cursed conquistador it’s probably challenging to find a long term relationship. So I guess when you find something like that you don’t want to lose it.
LGBTQ+ representation in The Jungle Cruise
If you read my review of Luca, you know that I have been a bit frustrated with Disney’s unwillingness to just incorporate gay characters into their stories more readily. We at least take a smaller step forward in this film with a somewhat openly gay character (he never uses the word but it’s pretty clear). In a scene between MacGregor and Frank, Frank asks him why he’s come along on this journey when he really doesn’t seem interested. MacGregor shares his loyalty to Lily because she’s the only person in his family who still supports him – the rest of his family has shunned him because he’s turned down several possible engagements to women because he states that his feelings lie “elsewhere.”
I thought it was a really sweet and heartfelt scene. Whitehall does a great job of showing a vulnerable side of his character, and Frank is surprisingly accepting (I guess if you’ve been alive for 400 years you’ve probably seen and learned a lot). I understand some people are complaining that he didn’t actually use the word gay but I think the intent is very obvious and it wasn’t necessary. I’m not an expert, but I’m also not sure when that term would have become used to describe sexuality and whether or not that was a common phrase in 1916.
I think it would have been nice if they had expanded on MacGregor’s character more as well here, but the writing of the script (both for this character and in general) just didn’t deliver. The one downside to this is that in some ways he comes off way too much as the stereotypical gay character – for example, there’s a scene in the movie where they are boarding this small jungle boat and dozens of trunks are being brought on board. Frank assumes they’re Lily’s items, but of course they’re actually MacGregor’s… he can’t travel without his dozens of pairs of shoes! He has a lot of funny moments but they border on a bit too cliché. Despite that though, he does have some moments where he breaks the mold a little, getting in on the action and throwing some punches that even Frank remarks are impressive.
Overall this is a step closer to what we needed from Disney in terms of representation, but it still feels like just a tiny step in the grand scheme. It was good to see that the “gay character” wasn’t just a throwaway character with a few lines (like Onward) or a “gay moment” that felt like it didn’t even count (like Beauty and the Beast). MacGregor at least is a main character with a big part in the film and has an honest conversation… I just wish they made his character less stereotypical on the outside.
To give The Jungle Cruise some credit, I was laughing a good bit throughout (and not just laughing at the odd choices of the film or how poorly some of it read). I mentioned above they incorporate the Jungle Cruise puns which is always fun, and there are other funny bits throughout. Johnson is great at what he does – a character with some sarcasm but in a loveable way, not too caustic. His banter with Blunt is great. In particular there is a scene where Frank is “translating” for the natives that’s very humorous.
The CGI was not good
To be honest, I rarely notice this sort of thing. Other people will comment on the CGI or the cinematography, but I typically get invested in stories and characters and don’t pay attention to those details. But this CGI was pretty bad in The Jungle Cruise movie because I did notice it. Proxima, a pet jaguar in the film, definitely stands out. There was also one moment where they showed some CGI frogs hopping by and it just looked awkward and weird, enough to make me comment about it.
Is the Jungle Cruise movie for kids?
The Jungle Cruise is rated PG-13, so there are some moments that may not be appropriate for younger viewers. In particular there is some violence – things that were a bit more violent than I thought they needed to be. It’s mostly bloodless violence though and no real gore. There are also some scary moments (some of the cursed conquistadors are looking pretty gnarly with snakes coming out of their head or half their face overtaken by bees). However there’s no sex or language, so it depends on the child’s sensitivity level to adventure and fighting. I’d think about Pirates of the Caribbean in terms of a similar style of film.
When will the Jungle Cruise be free on Disney+?
If you are a Disney+ subscriber, you’ll be able to access The Jungle Cruise for free on November 12, 2021. Right now it’s in theaters as well as playing as a premium access title for $30.
Is The Jungle Cruise movie worth paying for?
In my opinion, no. Unless you really, really love one of the two main actors I’d just wait until this one is available for free. We debated about whether or not to go out to the theater to see it or to pay for it on Disney+ (I really enjoy the theater experience, but if I get it on Disney+ we have 4 people who can watch it for $30 instead of the $30 it would cost for 2 adults in my area to see it). I commented after we watched it that I was really glad we didn’t see it in theaters. I don’t think it would have been worth the money or the extra time of getting there and sitting through previews and all. Plus I very much appreciated the ability to make snarky commentary out loud when the movie got really bad.
If you’re going to watch this movie (and you’re a grown responsible adult) I recommend drinking both before and during. That’s a joke, mostly, but a lot of it just felt really poorly done to me that a drink might make things feel a little more fun instead of cringey. I do think it’s the type of movie that can be fun if you don’t think about it too much. I personally think about things a lot in movies and I like things to be at least somewhat logical so things like this irk me. I also think the film had moments of potential that it never realized, instead trying to pack as much action and adventure in as possible.
Overall I’ll give it 2 out of 5 stars – the movie saves itself from being a 1 star film thanks to three really strong actors making the best of their characters, some funny moments, and hints at more interesting storylines.
Have you seen The Jungle Cruise movie? What do you think of this one?