East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Of all the movies that were somehow delayed by the pandemic, Disney’s Jungle Cruise was one of those I had been expecting with the highest anticipation. Possibly only Villeneuve’s Dune sits higher in my can’t-wait-to-see-it list for 2021.
On the downside, yes, it’s a Disney movie, and yes, it is based on a Disneyland ride. But I mean, the first Pirates of the Caribbean was based on a ride, too, right? And this one it features Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, and it’ s a big pulp-style adventure with exotic locales, a treasure, wild animals, the jungle, Conquistadores, headhunters… I mean, where do I sign?

So I went and watched it.

Short review: it’s not bad, and in all honesty, it is better than The Mummy 3, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.
Admittedly, not a high bar to clear.

The comparison to the third and last outing of The Mummy franchise is not gratuitous.
Just like that film, Jungle Cruise feels crowded, like they had squashed three different movies together, and yet it appears to be strangely hollow.
It is not bad, mind you – it’s just that it’s not as good as anticipated.

The cast is excellent, but served a below-par dialogue. Johnson and Blunt are charming and have an OK chemistry on screen, and it’s a pity they are given a somewhat trite score to play, their roles never straying too far from cliché.
Granted, they are not as offensively insufferable as the heroine’s sappy-but-OK queer brother and the stereotypical German bad guy, but both Johnson and Emily Blunt could do a lot more with their characters, if only the script allowed.

There’s a few action set-pieces, and they are OK.
Sometimes the score gets a little too screechy on such scenes, but all in all the combat choreography works.
The first long sequence in the Brazilian town, with the birds and the monkeys, is fun.
The rhythm sags here and there, but there’s not much you can do with a two hours movie – sometimes the action’s gonna sag.

The length is an issue – we could have saved ten minutes by cutting the lengthy intro – that gets repeated, with more details, halfway through the films. Don’t tell us the same story twice. Also, cutting the intro might have made the last hour of the film less predictable and obvious.

And this is really frustrating because there are no real problems with the story or the concept – it’s a standard pulp adventure plot (or three), and you can do a lot with those building blocks. Sure, if analyzed closely the whole premise makes no sense, and yes, it is essentially Pirates of the Caribbean all over again, but in the jungle, but who cares – we are here for a big action romp.
And the story elements are there, a lot of them.
The problems all seem to be structural – poor dialogues, sagging pace, an overabundance of bad guys.

And it’s really a pity, because I wanted to like this one.
I like adventure movies.
I like ancient mysteries and lost treasures.
I like both Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt.
And it’s an OK movie.
It’s better than the third The Mummy – I did not fall asleep watching this one.
But it could have been so much better.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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