Friday, August 27, 2021

Guest Post: Jungle Cruise (2021)

Jungle Cruise: “Pirates of the Amazon”


By Jonas Schwartz


Disney’s latest theme park attraction to be adapted into a narrative film, Jungle Cruise, is derivative, paying slavish homage to many Disney programs, the Jungle Cruise attraction, and pretty much every cliché of the genre. Yet the filmmakers found a winning cast, some snazzy visual effects, and a storyline that harks back to the serials of the 1930s, to craft a delightfully goofy cotton candy of a film.


Two years into the Great War, the evil Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), heir to the German Chancellor, stalks Lily, a pretty scientist (Emily Blunt), and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), for an artifact that could win the war for Germany and lead to World Domination. Lily and MacGregor hire a boastful, con artist, Frank (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), to travel down the Amazon River with a German submarine in tow. But the psychopathic Prince is not the only danger. Ghostly presences with control of reptiles and insects, also want to steal the artifact, and the enigmatic Frank may know why.

It’s hard to keep track of the films from which Jungle Cruise pilfers. The two obvious, the Pirates of the Caribbean series and the Indiana Jones series, form both this movie’s structure. The opening even lifts a line directly from Raiders of the Lost Ark,when Plemons’ devious German repeats what Alfred Molina says in the opening of the Spielberg/Lucas film, only to quickly betray the hero. 


The setting and use of supernatural enemies who change shape harks back to Pirates 1: Curse of the Black Pearl. There’s also a clever early visual spoof of The Lion King’s “The Circle Of Life.” Director Jaume Collet-Serra and his writers Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, must know they’re not inventing the wheel with this tale, but the serial shorts like Hopalong CassidyZorro, and Flash Gordon (movies that inspired Lucas to make Raiders in the first place) all reused the same stories over and over. The predictability becomes part of the fun. 


Johnson has made a post-wrestling career out of these smarmy, but loveable adventurers, and he’s at his winking best, charming the masculine pants off Emily Blunt or having a tender moment with Whitehall.  Blunt gets to be an action star. The film allows her to fight for herself and not wait for The Rock to rescue her. Her doctor is brainy, resourceful, and kind, which is refreshing for a film of this caliber. She doesn’t need to be a damsel in distress since that role is played by Whitehall as one of the first openly gay characters in a Disney family film. The way he comes out to Frank and expresses his dedication to his sister expresses nobility BUT the exasperated flibbertigibbet hits every stereotype that films had eternally been dishing out about the “sissy,” played by actors in the ‘30s like Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore. The fact that the unashamed MacGregor exists in this film is modern, but he’s carrying 20th Century baggage. In the baddie role, Plemons camps it up with Ming the Merciless-like glee. He lays it on thick but is obviously having a good time. 


Director Collet-Serra is a peculiar choice for light action fare, since he specialized in intense horror films, such as The ShallowsOrphan, and the film famous for skewering Paris Hilton in slow motion, House of Wax. He keeps the mood breezy and even though several characters have violent deaths, he doesn’t linger on those murders and keeps the film solidly PG-13.


Jungle Cruise will not be a long-lasting Disney classic brought out of the vaults every 10 years, but it’s a effervescent summertime fun bag.

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