Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5
USA, 2021. Davis Entertainment, Flynn Picture Company, Seven Bucks Productions, TSG Entertainment, Walt Disney Pictures, Zaftig Films. Screen story by John Norville, Josh Goldstein, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, Screenplay by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa. Cinematography by Flavio Martinez Labiano. Produced by John Davis, Beau Flynn, John Fox, Dany Garcia, Hiram Garcia, Dwayne Johnson. Music by James Newton Howard. Production Design by Jean-Vincent Puzos. Costume Design by Paco Delgado. Film Editing by Joel Negron.
Disney once again translates one of their popular theme park rides into a film adventure, hoping to repeat the (lone) success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise but striking closer to Haunted Mansion territory. Emily Blunt plays a World War I-era botanical scientist whose attempt to join the reigning British, all-male, scientific society has once again been rejected, while her aim to find the mythical Tears of the Moon, a tree hidden in the Amazon jungle that legend says can cure all ailments, has been met with ridicule. Striking off to South America with her brother (Jack Whitehall) in possession of a centuries-old arrowhead that has clues to the tree’s location, she hires a wisecracking boat captain (Dwayne Johnson) to take them up the famously dangerous river in his aging, barely seaworthy vessel. As anyone who has gotten on the ride knows, this is where the fun begins (a mere half hour into the preposterously 130 minute film), as these figures are met with constant danger from wild and/or poisonous animals, while not far behind them a German army captain (Jesse Plemons) pursues them to get the Tears of the Moon for his country’s glory and, even scarier, the long dead cadavers of Aguirre and his fellow conquistadors, who were consumed by the jungle during their own search for the tree centuries ago, come after the arrowhead (and are basically this film’s version of the Bill Nighy and his undead pirates).
It all sounds like non-stop adventure, perked up by a glamorous cast, healthy dollops of humour and terror and as much money as the Mouse House has to throw at a film that requires this much in the way of visual effects, but somehow director Jaume Collet-Serra manages to get each element of the process completely wrong. Even audience members feeling generous will have trouble wrapping their minds around the wholly unconvincing period details, it seems that the only reason to even set it in the past is to capture the Indiana Jones spirit it’s going after (including a portrait of German villainy that is actually more accurate in spirit to the second World War than the first), but the manner in which the characters express themselves (or just the way The Rock talks) is entirely modern (I’m sure there were women with post-graduate degrees in 1914, but Blunt’s character still doesn’t work, and, while we’re talking about progress, Whitehall’s character coming out as gay has all the provocative daring of a film made in 1986). Johnson’s character has a twist in his backstory that makes no sense (why isn’t he anything like his peers), but all of this would be easily acceptable if the film wasn’t actually such a tired rehash of better movies before it (see also Romancing The Stone); movies made entirely on green screen sets don’t always betray their technique, The Jungle Book for instance, but here one can actually see the computers doing their work and this, along with a hacky script and soulless direction, make for a thoroughly joyless experience.