The Rock’s return to family fare wasn’t one that filled me with much hope – after films like The Tooth Fairy and Race to Witch Mountain, it didn’t seem all too promising – but honestly, Jungle Cruise was far better that I’d ever have expected. Maybe it was that it had mentally been set such a low bar, but somewhere within its first 15 minutes, Jungle Cruise had managed to grab my attention in a way that I really hadn’t prepared for.
At the risk of stating the obvious (not only is it well-trodden ground online but it’s impossible to miss during the film), stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt share a singular chemistry that translates excellently to the film’s story. With Jack Whitehall and Jesse Plemons backing the pair with solid comedic performances, Jungle Cruise actually showcases some surprisingly sound acting. This isn’t true for the entire cast, however, as Paul Giamatti appears as an Italian (possibly?), complete with an inaccurate and borderline offensive accent – but generally speaking, the film’s impressive core cast carry along a narrative that recaptures the magic of movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Romancing the Stone, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
In search of an obvious MacGuffin, Jungle Cruise‘s various characters race along the Amazon in an enthralling tale of adventure. It’s a little clichéd in places, and it’s derivative in others, but these moments are cushioned by the knowledge that; a) it’s a family film, and b) Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson are going to entertain regardless. It’s not just their chemistry, but their ability to mix drama and comedy without it ever feeling forced that makes Jungle Cruise work.
Jungle Cruise also defied expectations in other ways. Not only did the colossal frame of Dwayne Johnson mostly refrain from any real action, but the film features an openly gay main character (Jack Whitehall’s MacGregor), which is a first for Disney. This representation was actually written to be surprisingly heartfelt, and – despite a few slightly misinformed lines of dialogue – quite sensitive.
In terms of its narrative, Jungle Cruise is hardly groundbreaking – but it carries a comforting charm that makes it a pleasant family watch, and that deserves recognition. While aspects of its story are borrowed from other (and, for the most part, better) films, it’s all injected with a little Disney magic, elevating proceedings slightly beyond the sum of their parts.
It’s hardly a cinematic masterpiece: its CGI is unconvincing, its plot is filled with convenient narrative holes, and its comedy is fairly lazy. However, when Jungle Cruise is watched as it’s intended to be – as a family film that bridges the gap between what children and their parents will enjoy – then it’s a passably entertaining experience.
Summary: Jungle Cruise isn’t likely to challenge more discerning viewers; then again, it wasn’t intended to. If you’re after a fun family adventure that can be enjoyed by everyone, you could do much worse.
Highlight: The chemistry between the film’s leads is undeniable, and it’s practically contagious. Also, Jesse Plemons’ hilariously exaggerated villain is good for a few laughs.