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MOVIES: Jungle Cruise - Review

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Jungle Cruise is the latest film from journeyman director Jaume Collett-Sera (of Unknown, The Swallows and Non-Stop fame), that borrows from the Disney approach of turning their rides into movies and hoping for the best with often mixed results, save for Pirates of the Caribbean where they struck gold with the first two films before falling victim to increasingly diminishing returns. This film feels like a combination of that with the works of The Mummy and Raiders of the Lost Ark, borrowing plot points from these films – it’s set in World War One rather than World War Two, but the results are the same – you’ve got nondescript Germans trying to stop our trio of heroes – the guide, the adventurer and the out-of-his-depth bookworm is a tried and tested formula. In these roles are Dwayne Johnson, who has been feuding with Vin Diesel over a fallout in The Fast and Furious movies that led to his own spinoff, Hobbs and Shaw, Emily Blunt, fresh off A Quiet Place Part II and having a mostly brilliant year in terms of performances does her best turn at being Rachel Weisz – and bizarrely English comedian Jack Whitehall, who seems intent on following the same career path laid down by James Corden.

The film itself lets you know what you’re going to get from the get go – it sets itself up as mindless entertainment, a fun adventure spectacle. But unlike what made Pirates of the Caribbean and The Mummy work it feels laboured rather than effortless, forced rather than authentic, and ugly rather than unique. It’s shot entirely against a green screen which becomes more evident as the film goes along but it robs the film of any kind of style – the action set-pieces are soulless and empty, too forced to achieve any kind of believability, and what’s worse is that the film barely understands what makes a jungle a jungle – it doesn’t look like one at all - it looks like a green screen studio from start to finish. None of the CGI spectacle – Pirates of the Caribbean had zombie-like skeleton creatures, so of course Jungle Cruise has zombie-like skeleton creatures – lands, and it just feels like a shallow experience as a result, and either one of the two villain factions would have been enough on their own - it didn't need both the Germans and the Spanish factions, as great fun as the brilliant Jesse Plemons is hamming it up at every opportunity, he wasn't really needed at all.

If anything, Jungle Cruise is too slow. Every time it threatens to start it slows down to bog the characters in unnecessary exposition that spends too much time repeating what we already know. Much of the humour is the classic Dad humour provided by The Rock – in cheerful form. But his chemistry with Emily Blunt is barely present – and Jack Whitehall sticks out like a sore thumb, more annoying than likeable. There are better films that tread this similar subject without the Disney fanfare – James Gray’s 2016 masterpiece The Lost City of Z springs to mind as an odyssey through the jungle, as does Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God, which this film borrows several key figures from.

If there could be one word that best summed up Jungle Cruise it’s inoffensive. The film doesn’t try to be creative and doesn’t try to break the mould. I don’t mind films that give you exactly what you expect – I didn't expect Jungle Cruise to be The Lost City of Z - It's a Disney movie, after all. I just wish Jungle Cruise had been more exciting within its stale formula. Out of the two fueding Fast stars who had a movie come out in the wake of lockdown, it's Vin Diesel who wins this round with the thoroughly entertaining F9.

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