Genre: Action/Comedy
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti
Runtime: 2 hrs 7 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some Violence)
Released By: Walt Disney
Official Website: 

Opening Day: 29 July 2021

Synopsis: Inspired by the famous Disneyland theme park ride, Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” is an adventure-filled, rollicking thrill-ride down the Amazon with wisecracking skipper Frank Wolff and intrepid researcher Dr. Lily Houghton. Lily travels from London, England to the Amazon jungle and enlists Frank’s questionable services to guide her downriver on La Quila—his ramshackle-but-charming boat. Lily is determined to uncover an ancient tree with unparalleled healing abilities—possessing the power to change the future of medicine. Thrust on this epic quest together, the unlikely duo encounters innumerable dangers and supernatural forces, all lurking in the deceptive beauty of the lush rainforest. But as the secrets of the lost tree unfold, the stakes reach even higher for Lily and Frank and their fate—and mankind’s—hangs in the balance.

Movie Review:

Long before the modern-day superhero movie, Hollywood blockbusters were the stuff of swashbuckling adventures such as the ‘Indiana Jones’ films, ‘The African Queen’, ‘The Mummy’ and even Disney’s own ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. It is no secret watching Disney’s live-action adaptation of their famous Disneyland theme park ride that director Jaume Collet-Serra intended for ‘Jungle Cruise’ to hark back to these classics, and we’re glad to say that this trip down familiar waters is as pleasantly entertaining and delightfully thrilling as you’d be hoping for it to be.

Key to its winning blend is the chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, whose pairing recalls some of the best of the genre: think Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in ‘The Mummy’, or ‘Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in ‘The African Queen’, or Harrison Ford and Karen Allen in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. On their own, Johnson and Blunt are charismatic in their own right; but together, the pair display such effervescent rapport that you’ll be smiling every time they are onscreen. So endearing are they that when the story takes a rather unforeseen turn in the last act, you’ll find yourself surprisingly moved by what that means for their relationship, and it is to the credit of both actors that we care so deeply for their fates of their characters.

Contrary to expectation, we are first introduced to Blunt’s spirited botanist Dr Lily Houghton, who in the opening scenes has smuggled herself into the offices of London’s Royal Geographical Society in search of an ancient arrowhead that holds the key to finding a legendary, all-healing Amazonian blossom called the Tears of the Moon. Determined to find the tree of life, Dr Houghton travels to South America with her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), who is horrified of journeying into possibly treacherous territory but reluctant to leave his sister alone.

On the other hand, we make our acquaintance with Johnson’s fast-talking skipper Frank Wolff as he leads a group of tourists on one of his boat rides on the Amazon river, scamming them with fake sights such as a phony giant hippo, a rickety waterfall and a group of supposedly savage natives whom he has paid off to deliberately scare off the foreigners. Just as bad, if not worse, than his cons are his lame dad jokes: spotting a couple of toucans along the way, Frank cracks, “They are paired because only two can play” (get it?). After an amusing case of mistaken identity involving a rival riverboat operator (a funny but underused Paul Giamatti), Lily and MacGregor agree to let Frank take them upriver on board his ragtag steamboat La Quila.

Amidst their bickering, Frank and Lily have to confront fierce rapids, an army of undead conquistadors led by Lope de Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez), and a German aristocrat Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) seeking the petals for (what else?) world domination. It’s as hectic as it gets, with a pet jaguar named Proxima (a CGI creation brought convincingly to life by New Zealand’s Weta Workshop) and the aforementioned tribe of ‘cannibals’ thrown in for good measure during its two-hour runtime. Yet even as it gets increasingly rickety, Collet-Serra and his trio of writers – Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, with story credit to Ficarra and Requa – throw in enough exciting twists moment to moment that you don’t end up losing attention.

Those familiar with the Spanish director Collet-Serra will also recognise his knack for crafting B-movie thrills in such movies as ‘Orphan’, ‘The Commuter’ and ‘The Shallows’, which he puts those talents to good use here in a couple of brawny action sequences, including a nail-biting race against a waterfall, a showdown between the phantom army and the natives within the latter’s habitat up in the trees, and the film’s piece de resistance in a giant secret city hidden underneath the Amazon. The CGI does get overly zealous at some points, but Collet-Serra holds it together with sheer bravura and even some cleverly staged scares every now and then.

Yet ‘Jungle Cruise’s’ greatest joys lie with the company of Johnson and Blunt, whose verve and wit elevate the film into the sort of good old-fashioned escapism that other classic action-adventure movies were made of. That you don’t end up begrudging the ending for being a ‘deux ex machina’ is testament to how much both actors have won you over, so much so that you don’t mind them being back for a possible sequel. And as far as theme park attractions go, ‘Jungle Cruise’ is surely one of the best of such adaptations, preserving the trademark groan-worthy charm of its ‘skippers’ while reviving the magic of past swashbuckling delights. It’s a journey filled with laughs, thrills and some spills, so bring your popcorn and slushy drink and enjoy the ride.

Movie Rating:

(With verve and wit, Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt make a winning swashbuckling couple in this old-fashioned escapist action adventure that mostly succeeds in emulating the laughs, thrills and spills of its classic genre predecessors)

Review by Gabriel Chong


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