For an aspiring director in Hollywood, it’s hard to say no to a job. That’s why acclaimed filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra has no qualms about his early days shooting commercials, nor what he called a “natural” transition to horror films.
Collet-Serra Is behind some of the most thrilling low-key action and suspense titles of the past decade, including outings with Liam Neeson in “The Commuter,” “Non-Stop” and “Run All Night.” He also directed the crowd-pleasing 2016 shark tale “The Shallows” with Blake Lively, the genre hit “Orphan” and rebooted the iconic horror film “House of Wax.” But one particular artistic principle has kept him from leveling up to Hollywood’s biggest franchises: no sequels.
His four-quadrant moment finally arrives with the July 30 release of Walt Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” in theaters and on Disney Plus Premier Access.
“There have been opportunities to do big movies before, but they were all sequels. And I wanted my first big movie to be an original piece, so I’d been deliberately waiting for something like ‘Jungle Cruise’ for many years,” he says. “I wanted it to be something that was purely mine. I read this script and saw that opportunity that I had been waiting for, to really start something from scratch. I wanted to create a world that didn’t exist, and you know that when Disney is going to do something, they do it right.”
After sparking chemistry with his star, Dwayne Johnson, the pair worked to convince the studio that Collet-Serra could handle a broad adventure comedy that would resonate with kids and grandparents alike. Based on the popular Disneyland ride, “Jungle Cruise” sits at a unique place in culture, as a popular theme park attraction with no narrative attached.
“Dwayne and I have similar taste in a lot of things. A movie like this cannot just have comedy and fantastical elements — you also have to have emotion.” says Collet-Serra. “The moment that Emily Blunt came into the picture, that energy was elevated. From there it was apparent that my job was just to orient the camera and get out of the way.”
Johnson and Collet-Serra bonded in the depths of that on-screen jungle, to the point that the star recruited the director for his first superhero effort, the DC Films project “Black Adam,” which just wrapped in Atlanta. Collet-Serra calls “Black Adam” the “most complex puzzle of my career,” especially as the Spanish filmmaker grew up on iconic ’80s movies instead of comic books. His take on the character, one who plays in the same universe as Batman and Superman, leans into the grittier side of Johnson’s winning persona.
“Having just done a romantic adventure comedy where he’s very light, I was really attracted to getting the dark version of Dwayne. Basically, turning him into Clint Eastwood in a Western. I was like, ‘You’re like the Dirty Harry of superheroes,’” he says. “I didn’t have to convince people that I was right for this one in the same way that I did for ‘Jungle Cruise.’ It’s like things I’ve done with Liam [Neeson], that tough-guy antihero who has a heart. The world is not black and white. The world is in gray areas, so you need these people that are riding that gray area.”