An illustration depicts the main character of Jungle Cruise, played by Emily Blunt, holding a lantern in the midst of dense jungle foliage.

‘Jungle Cruise’ Is Perfect for Dwayne Johnson — And That’s the Problem

This new Disney film is as entertaining as it is well-made, but for The Rock, it’s far from original.
September 4, 2021
6 mins read

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s newest film, “Jungle Cruise,” has graced Disney+ and theaters over the past few weeks and it’s been a project of interest for cinephiles everywhere. Standing on its own, the piece definitely shows promise. With a dazzling all-star cast that includes Johnson, Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall, the film was meant to impress. Having garnered around $175 million in the box office, globally, it’s very clear that it accomplished that goal. However, in the grander scope of The Rock’s many acting credits, the film appears to be quite static.

The film’s premise is definitely gripping — it follows a jungle cruise director and a wealthy, unabashed explorer who take on a mystery larger than themselves. This is a tried-and-true plotline that, while not very original, is fun, entertaining and timeless. The characters’ charm and charisma serve as added benefits. Dr. Lily Houghton, played by Blunt, is spirited, gutsy and determined, prerequisite traits for all Hollywood adventurers. She is accompanied by her younger brother (Whitehall), who is endearing and hilarious. To complete the triumvirate, Johnson himself plays a kind and astute explorer who guides the Houghtons on their journey to find an Amazonian blossom with magical healing powers. On the way to find this blossom, the group encounters the many obstacles that inhabit the jungle, from rapids to terrifying things that go bump in the night. They also find love, acceptance and purpose.

There is incredible chemistry between all of the actors, whether it is Blunt and her brotherly dynamic with Whitehall or her romantic interactions with Johnson. The film portrays its characters with depth, complexity and a charm that is difficult to capture. The treasure hunt they take on is suspenseful, action-packed and surprisingly beautiful. The jungle visuals that host this film are absolutely wonderful, truly capturing the magic that the plot is centered around. The setting is defined by heavily saturated colors and a multitude of hues that truly bring the jungle to the viewer. It’s smooth and well-executed. On all counts, “Jungle Cruise” lives up to its expectations and more — but only as a standalone.

As an addition to Johnson’s acting portfolio, this investment is essentially useless. Although well-done, it is a repetition of a singular character that Johnson has played in countless movies throughout the years. How is this role in “Jungle Cruise” any different than what he played in “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island,” where he guides a group through an island? How is it different from his roles in both of the “Jumanji” films, where he guides a group through an imaginary jungle?

In the past 10 years, Johnson has rarely strayed from his role. It’s outlined very easily: hyper-masculine man who is mildly awkward or humorous in nature gets roped into accompanying a group of people as they explore a jungle-like environment. It feels as if the public has seen so many slight variations of the same character and film from Johnson over the years that they’ve almost gotten blurry; it’s difficult to differentiate between scenes in all of these movies. This means that although they generally find box office success, they do not maintain any type of longevity in the film industry.

This is not to say that Johnson’s role in “Jungle Cruise” was subpar. On the contrary, he was able to build a very believable and likable presence as cruise director Frank Wolff. He carries out his role without being obnoxious or overly dramatic, which is a fault of many action films. As an actor, Johnson was very graceful, as he usually is. Some of his humor tends to get in the way of his character development in his other films, but in “Jungle Cruise,” there was a clear arc for Wolff. In regard to his performance, he portrayed his character perfectly. It would be odd if he didn’t, considering he’s played that same role in at least three other films.

That being said, “Jungle Cruise” is actually quite good. Originality and range aside, the film has many redeeming qualities and is a perfect watch for the casual viewer. Although it may seem repetitive to any Johnson fan, it’s a great movie to view on its own. Its incredible financial success speaks to that. This movie may have actually been one of Johnson’s better works in isolation. Its only downfall is that it is overshadowed by the countless, less-refined copies of it that rest in Johnson’s career history.

All things considered, it’s a well-made take on an age-old tale — I only wish Johnson would tell a different one.

Mariam Nasief, Columbia University

Writer Profile

Mariam Nasief

Columbia University
Biomedical Engineering

Mariam Nasief, originally from New Jersey, is currently a rising sophomore and self-proclaimed pop-culture connoisseur. Although she’s studying engineering, she loves to stimulate her creative side in whatever way that she can.

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