Jungle Cruise (2021) **** – Seen At The Cinema

Can’t believe this romp is getting such sniffy reviews. But the reason is simple enough. Critics don’t watch it with an audience (except possibly of other critics) – on Rotten Tomatoes critics scored this at 63% while audiences rated it 93%. I saw it as part of my Monday Night Cinema Double Bill – along with Suicide Squad which critics adored. But while I thought Suicide Squad was a blast and very original, I laughed more at Jungle Cruise and I was much more involved. The difference – Suicide Squad is slick and cynical with hardly a single empathetic character, which is an easier target these days, but Jungle Cruise goes for something more difficult to achieve, a genuine warm-hearted movie that doesn’t disappear into romantic slush.

Sure, Jungle Cruise recycles not just Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) – which itself recycled just about everything – but Ghost (1990), Highlander (1986), The African Queen (1951), Romancing the Stone (1984) and Pirates of the Caribbean (2003), but I don’t think that took away from its originality. The story made sense and the clues involved in the treasure hunt aspect of the picture were well worked out, delivering quite a few surprises. But mostly, there was terrific charisma between Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt.

Roguish Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), with a line in lame jokes (which, by the way, had the audience roaring), operates an Amazon river cruise before the First World War where most of what the passengers see is manufactured. Explorer and accomplished burglar Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) mistakes him for riverboat magnate Nilo (Paul Giametti) but after Frank saves her from a tiger (his tame beast, it turns out) she hires him to find a fabled treasure. Also in the hunt are ruthless German Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) and Spaniard Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez).

Both Wolff and Houghton are given great opening scenes, he proving what a con man he is, she more than capable in a man’s world, where such is the antipathy to female archaeologists that her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) has to deliver her lecture for her. There’s action by the bucketload, quite a few Indiana Jones-type escapes, shooting the rapids, encounters with dangerous animals – snakes, piranha fish etc – and natives. Prince Joachim has one hell of a river vessel and quite a few tricks up his sleeve. It’s not just that the pace never lets up, but it is generally delivered with verve.  

Interestingly, there is a nod towards diversity in that MacGregor is gay, a fact accepted by Wolff. Equally interesting, MacGregor has a pivotal transitional moment as his character starts out in one mode and ends in another.  And Lily gives the finger to the male-dominated academic world.

Paul Giamatti (TV’s Billions, 2016-2021) only has a small part but it’s a delight to see him make any big screen appearance at all and Jesse Plemons (Judas and the Black Messiah, 2021) takes on the rather unusual role of the German bad guy. Even though Edgar Ramirez (Yes Day, 2021) spends most of the movie in disguise one way or another, his intensity still shines through.

Jaume Collet-Sera made his name directing Liam Neeson thrillers like Unknown (2011) – one of my favorite pictures – and Non-Stop (2014), Run All Night (2015) and The Commuter (2018) but this is a big step up not just in terms of budget and the occasionally complex story line but also in the romance and comedy elements and in my eyes he more than delivers. Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049, 2017), Glen Ficarra (Focus, 2013) and John Requa (The Bad News Bears, 2005) all had a hand in the screenplay and James Newton Howard (News of the World, 2020) has written a great score.  

I’ve no idea whether Jungle Cruise has anything in common with the ride at the Disney theme park and I didn’t care. This is not just great family viewing but for audiences of all ages who just want to be – wait for it – entertained. But Disney may well have shot itself in the foot by streaming this at the same time as opening it in cinemas for I bet you this will get terrific word-of-mouth and they should have let it sit in cinemas for months to gather the benefits. An ideal summer movie of the old-fashioned kind.

Current Cinema Catch-Up 1 – Nomadland, Judas and the Black Messiah, Godzilla vs. Kong

Before the pandemic and before I started writing this Blog I used to go to the cinema once a week on a Monday, normally catching a double-bill of my own choosing, and occasionally lucky enough to watch three movies in a day. Since cinemas re-opened in my neck of the woods in mid-May I’ve found it impossible not to return to my old habits. So here’s my first triple-bill.

Nomadland  (2020) ****

Easy Rider meets The Grapes of Wrath except in both these cases the travellers had a distinct destination in mind. Like the title implies, the characters in Nomadland are going nowhere, and often just round, though somewhat contentedly, in circles. Deservedly winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actress Frances McDormand and Best Director Chloe Zhao, this not so much invests in diversity but in a world we never knew existed, of people who live out their lives in the backs of vans and trailers. In a previous generation, they might be deemed trailer trash, but that’s not the case here. They may be humbled but they are not unprincipled.

Recently widowed Fern (Frances McDormand) takes to the road after unemployment closes down her small town and temporary work at the local Amazon depot dries up  after Xmas. Considering herself “houseless” rather than “homeless” Fern finds herself involved in a peripatetic community of like-minded individuals, some drifting due to circumstance, others wanting to live out their last years as sight-seers. It’s not a drama and it hardly even qualifies as a docu-drama because virtually nothing happens but it is an eye-opener, not just for the visuals but for the way it explores the inherent loneliness in society. Once she has a taste for the road, Fern spurns every opportunity to settle down. The characters encountered are definitely originals and have the feel of genuine nomads – Swankie and Linda May certainly are –  the camera just happened to catch as it tracked by.

A true original with McDormand – her third acting Oscar after Fargo (1996) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2107) plus another one as producer here – giving a tremendous performance as a passive individual surrendering, despite occasional indignity and hardship, to the joys of roaming.

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) ****

Rather than face a jail sentence. car thief Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) turns FBI informant and infiltrates a Black Panther group led by Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Spurred on by FBI controller Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons), O’Neal’s work has disastrous consequences.

As a devastating expose of the criminal activities undertaken by the world’s highest- profile criminal-catching operation, the FBI,  this is a first-class procedural type of picture, where, courtesy of the suspense created by director Shaka King (Newlyweeds, 2013), you find yourself rooting for O’Neal as he comes close to being discovered. But it is also grounded by an impeccable performance by Kaluuya (Queen and Slim, 2019) who portrays Hampton as a gentle soul, shy with women, but with a gift for public speaking that rouses a put-upon generation.

The Black Panthers are shown as instigators of genuine social reform, setting up medical programs etc, rather than just gun-toting rebels. Kaluuya won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor but in truth he steals the show from the lead Stanfield.  

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) ***

If you can make out what is going on in among all the noise and implausibilities then there is a halfway decent summer blockbuster to be enjoyed. The sci-fi gobbledegook spouted by scientist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) leads Kong-whisperer Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and Ilene (Rebecca Hall) into harm’s way, so far beneath the earth you are likely to poke up in Australia. Naturally, the two ancient behemoths go head-to-head while destroying everything in sight.

Discover WordPress

A daily selection of the best content published on WordPress, collected for you by humans who love to read.

The Atavist Magazine

by Brian Hannan

WordPress.com News

The latest news on WordPress.com and the WordPress community.