Film Review of the Week


Jungle Cruise (12A)

Review: If Pirates Of The Caribbean and Raiders Of The Lost Ark walked the plank arm-in-arm, the resulting splash of supernatural swashbuckler and booby-trapped treasure hunt would look strikingly similar to director Jaume Collet-Serra’s rollicking action adventure. Inspired by the water attraction in four Disney theme parks, Jungle Cruise spins a fantastical yarn in the shadow of the First World War, which encourages audiences to avoid close scrutiny of historical accuracy and logic.

There’s no easy, credible explanation as to how Dwayne Johnson’s riverboat captain could achieve an impressively ripped physique from guided tours of jungle tributaries on an empty stomach (his credit at the bustling harbour taverna is overextended). Or why Emily Blunt’s plucky botanist, who has never learnt to swim, would be a natural underwater at the first attempt and possess remarkable lung capacity in one of the film’s elaborate action sequences.

Collet-Serra gleefully knocks realism overboard in an exhilarating opening chase, which incorporates acrobatic ladder tricks borrowed from the golden age of silent movies. His film is escapism writ large, galvanised by old-fashioned verbal sparring between Johnson and Blunt and a broad comic turn from Jack Whitehall as Blunt’s fashion-conscious brother, who discloses that his romantic interests “happily lie… elsewhere” in a tender coming-out scene that continues the trend of LGBTQ visibility and positivity in Disney films.

Dr Lily Houghton (Blunt) and well-to-do younger sibling MacGregor (Whitehall) travel from 1916 London to Porto Velho in Brazil to locate the fabled Tears of the Moon – a tree festooned with glowing pink petals capable of healing any illness. According to legend, Spanish conquistador Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez) and his troops failed hundreds of years ago to locate the tree and their accursed souls are now tethered to the jungle by ancient magic.

Lily bargains with riverboat captain Frank Wolff (Johnson) to hire his boat, La Quila, and travel upstream to prove the tree’s existence. Unfortunately, crazed German aristocrat Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) also seeks the tree, believing the petals can win the Great War for his homeland and cement his place in history. He shadows Lily, Frank and MacGregor in a torpedo-armed submarine, awaiting the perfect moment to strike.

Jungle Cruise is an uproarious thrill ride, which wrings every giggle and guffaw from the sparkling on-screen chemistry between Johnson and Blunt’s bickering explorers. They appear to be having a blast and their enthusiasm is infectious. Scriptwriters Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa reference the theme park attraction with the inclusion of the character of Trader Sam and groanworthy puns in Johnson’s banter. Ramirez’s archvillain is poorly served and feels undernourished, despite nests of digitally conjured snakes slithering through his body that could scare young children. An unexpected and outlandish plot twist tees up a spectacular final reckoning soaked in emotion and keeps afloat the possibility of further rumbles in the jungle.

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Spirit Untamed (U)

Review: According to one of the cherubic computer-animated heroines in Elaine Bogan and Ennio Torresan’s girl-powered coming of age story, horses response positively to the three Cs: calmness, confidence and carrots. Unfortunately, the three Cs that cinema audiences response to most favourably, characterisation, charm and complexity, are in short supply in this unsophisticated spin-off from the 2002 film Spirit: Stallion Of The Cimarron and subsequent Netflix series. Screenwriters Aury Wallington and Kristin Hahn trot out independent, socially conscious female protagonists as role models, promoting individuality and sisterly solidarity as qualities to be cherished.

While the script’s intentions are unquestionably noble, Bogan and Torresan’s gallop through the wilderness is like a glass of squash made with a miserly splash of fruit cordial: refreshing at the first sip but ultimately lacking in pleasurable flavour or colour. The film skirts tentatively around tricky topics of grief and abandonment rather than tackling emotional trauma head-on, which is a disservice to younger viewers well versed in processing pain thanks to animated films like Big Hero 6, Coco and Onward. Isabela Merced, who brought spunk and vitality to the title role of live-action film Dora And The Lost City Of Gold, is largely forgettable as the voice of a girl scarred by the loss of her mother, while an A-List supporting cast including Jake Gyllenhaal and Julianne Moore is similarly squandered.

Fortuna Navarro-Prescott (voiced by Merced) aka Lucky is a bright-eyed toddler when her circus performer mother (Eiza Gonzalez) dies executing her signature somersault on horseback. Separated from her grief-stricken father Jim (Gyllenhaal), who is incapable of caring for an infant, Lucky is raised by her aunt Cora (Moore) and grandfather James (Joe Hart) in the city. Years later, events conspire to return Lucky and Cora to the town of Miradero for a summer under Jim’s roof.

The estranged father struggles to reconnect with Lucky, who possesses the same fiery temperament and steely resolve as her mother. The inquisitive tyke befriends a wild stallion named Spirit and embarks on daredevil adventures with local girls Pru (Marsai Martin) and Abigail (Mckenna Grace) and their respective steeds, Little Creek and Boomerang. When horse wrangler Hendricks (Walton Goggins) targets Spirit’s herd, the girls defy parental edicts to gallop to the rescue.

Spirit Untamed keeps a tight rein on anything that might set itself apart from countless computer-animated escapades with soundtracks that spell out every emotion in the lyrics. Here, a pop anthem sung by Becky G taps toes of acceptance, It Won’t Be Long Until You Find Where You Belong, as animators saddle up for unremarkable set pieces including a horseback leap onto a moving cargo ship. Unlike the four-legged title character, there is nothing wild or free about Bogan and Torresan’s picture.

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The Suicide Squad (15)

Review: In 2016, David Ayer wrote and directed the original story Suicide Squad about a scheming US government agent (Viola Davis), who press-gangs dangerous incarcerated criminals into carrying out covert missions with limited chance of success in exchange for reduced prison sentences. His splashy introduction of the DC Comics super-villains, nicknamed Task Force X, was a full-blown assault on the eyes and ears but rarely troubled the grey matter or made full use of an expansive A-list cast beyond Margot Robbie’s wide-eyed lunacy as gum-blowing anti-heroine Harley Quinn.

Writer-director James Gunn excitedly picks up the baton for an anarchic and dizzyingly dotty reboot, which mimics the irreverence and soundtrack-fixated swagger of his Guardians Of The Galaxy films, heightened with explosions of graphic violence that leave little to the anatomical imagination. Imaginative on-screen captions help us navigate an intentionally fractured timeline, which introduces a hulking extra-terrestrial adversary dating back more than 60 years in the comic books to the dawn of the Justice League. Robbie takes top billing and snags a deranged romantic subplot but the script affords generous screen time to some of her co-stars, particularly Idris Elba and John Cena as rival assassins, while Daniela Melchior plucks heartstrings as a sensitive girl whose vermin best friend targets the Groot sweet spot.

When the fate of mankind hangs in the balance – again – Amanda Waller (Davis) entreats Colonel Rick Flag (Joel Kinnaman) to respond with a ragtag band of degenerates who have micro-bombs implanted in their necks. Their top-secret mission: to destroy all trace of Project Starfish spearheaded by The Thinker (Peter Capaldi) on the island nation of Corto Maltese, which has recently experienced a military coup orchestrated by General Mateo Suarez (Joaquin Cosio) to install Luna (Juan Diego Botto) as president.

Flag’s unlikely band of gifted soldiers includes Harley Quinn (Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Savant (Michael Rooker), Blackguard (Pete Davidson), T.D.K. (Nathan Fillion), Weasel (Sean Gunn), Javelin (Flula Borg) and Mongal (Mayling Ng). Meanwhile, a second team of remarkable misfits comprising Bloodsport (Elba), Peacemaker (Cena), Ratcatcher 2 (Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) and King Shark (drolly voiced by Sylvester Stallone) is brought into play to guarantee success.

Crammed to bursting with madcap new characters, The Suicide Squad runs 11 minutes longer than its predecessor and does feel bloated. Gunn shows no mercy, ruthlessly cutting a swathe through the cast and splashing their innards over sprawling sets to underline the perilously high stakes. He remedies some of the problems of Ayer’s 2016 picture, including the tonal inconsistencies, but also falls into the same traps, including a heavy reliance on digital effects. The script mines “anti-American fervour” and embraces the insanity of a showdown between mankind and a rampaging otherworldly creature, who wreaks havoc on a building-tumbling scale that would have Godzilla roaring approval.

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