The newest movie based around one of Disney’s beloved theme-park attractions, Jungle Cruise, arrives this week, bringing humor and a whole bunch of fun.
I’ve been looking forward to seeing Jungle Cruise since the first trailer dropped (over a year ago). To be honest, prior to that trailer, my interest was absolutely zero. I’ve never been to any of the Disney parks, so any story based on them—especially one based on a trip down the river—just doesn’t appeal to me.
Directed By: Jaume Collet-Serra
Written By: Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramirez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons
Release Date: July 30, 2021 in theaters on Disney+ via Premier Access
The trailers, however, showcased an adventure film that seemed much in the same vein as the Brendan Fraser Mummy films and even their own Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I’m incredibly happy to tell you the final film is everything those trailers promised. Let’s chat a bit about it.
Let’s get this out of the way first and foremost…If you’re looking for high art, deep, and thought-provoking plot lines; you won’t find them in Jungle Cruise. To be entirely honest, I’m not sure why you would be looking for it there in the first place!
Instead, the plot of the film is relatively straightforward. There are some fun twists I genuinely wasn’t expecting, but I won’t be spoiling those here. In the early part of the 20th century, Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), shunned by the scientific community for simply being a woman, enlists the aid of her brother McGregor Houghton (Jack Whitehall) to try and convince the local association about the potential merit in chasing after a legend.
There’s tale of a Tree of Life out in the Amazon, once sought after by the Conquistadores, the petals of which could cure ANY disease. Lily sees the legend as a chance to bring something special to the medical world, something that could change the course of history. Once again shut down by fellow scientists, Lily manages to steal an important artifact (an arrow) that could ultimately take her to the fabled tree where all others failed before.
She’s not the only one after the Tree, however, and ends up stealing the arrow out of the hands of a very dangerous (albeit a little off-kilter) aristocrat. Jesse Plemons masterfully plays the strange, but no less threatening, Prince Joachim who will do just about anything to get the arrow back. He wants to find the Tree of Life for his own evil plans at world domination.
With the artifact in hand, Lily embarks on an expedition with McGregor deep into the Amazon. She’ll need a guide, however, to take her safely through the dangerous jungle. In a town (well, more of a village) on the riverside, down on his luck ship captain Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), is just the man for the job.
As they journey deeper into the jungle, the villainous Prince manages to awaken the cursed Conquistadores who, in their centuries of being trapped around the river, have become more supernatural beings. Taking on various properties from the Amazon itself (the woods, venomous snakes, bogs, and even bees), they seek to uncover the very thing that led to them being cursed. Battling the natural elements, an unexpected submarine, and even the un-dead, Lily, Frank, and McGregor have to work together and fight to reach the Tree first.
So yeah, it’s a fairly straightforward adventure story wherein two scholarly people, obviously out of their element, hire a local tough guy to help them. The Mummy influence is pretty apparent, but there’s also the hint of Indiana Jones and, of course, Romancing the Stone. In many ways, Jungle Cruise takes full advantage of all the tropes associated with this genre, but uses them in a way that manages to feel fresh and fun (oftentimes subverting them). Even as it plays around with a story that’s all too familiar, you can’t help but enjoy the ride.
Action and Chemistry
One (big) reason why Jungle Cruise is so fun comes down the interactions and chemistry between all the actors. Emily Blunt, Dwayne Johnson, and Jack Whitehall play off of each other excellently and you get the sense they’re having a blast the whole time. Their trio dynamic alone is enough to keep your interest during the film, and it’s one of those twists on the adventure trope I was talking about.
Typically, these type of films focus on a pair of characters who both love and hate each other. Complete opposites that somehow work together and come closer. In Jungle Cruise, the focus is very much on the three of them and their journey together. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still the specific chemistry between Frank and Lily we’re supposed to root for, but McGregor never feels like a third wheel, or completely ancillary character. Rather than being the bumbling comic relief (though he plays that part too), McGregor is an integral part of their group, adding his own unique perspective and abilities to the story.
The witty banter (and bad puns) shared between the group as they journey along make them almost instantly endearing. It’s hard NOT to root for them, or feel for them, even as the story treads familiar territory.
Just as the film plays around with the genre’s story and character tropes, the action is handled much the same way. While none of it really feels like it’s breaking new ground, they’re a whole bunch of fun to watch. There’s chase sequences, daring escapes, deadly puzzles to solve, and even some old-school swashbuckling sword fights to “ooh” and “ahh” over.
On their own, the sequences are fun, bombastic, and sure to delight, but they manage to change things up enough to feel like you’re seeing something unique. When you put it all together in the context of the larger story, you can’t help but feel like you’ve been on an adventure yourself.
The Fun Factor
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that Jungle Cruise is a perfect film. I can’t. Hell, I could probably fill out this review with all the “problems” the movie has. There’s some questionable VFX work (confounding because they had an extra year to tweak things), and on the whole, it’s a shallow story that probably won’t stick with you after the credits roll…
I’m here to tell you none of that matters. Jungle Cruise has a ridiculous fun factor working for it, and it delivers on exactly the movie it promised (and what I was hoping for). I haven’t had this much fun with an adventure movie in a long while, and I find myself eager for more.
At the end of the day, I spent two hours smiling, having a blast, and completely forgetting about the outside world. No amount of technical issues can really detract from that. It’s just damn fun.