Trying to strike lightening in a bottle for a second time, Disney’s Jungle Cruise is a safe and familiar adventure based on the classic theme park attraction. The movie is energetic and coasts off the chemistry between its two stars, Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson. Jesse Plemons hams it up as a villain of German royalty.
Botanist Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt) is on a quest to find a mystical ancient tree with unimaginable healing powers. She travels down to the Amazon jungle with her brother, McGregor (Jack Whitehall), where she meets Frank (Johnson), a riverboat skipper with a habit of making bad puns. Frank is at first hesitant to assist Dr. Houghton in her pursuit of the tree, which he believes to be a foolish undertaking, but is desperate for money and accepts her offer anyway. On the course of their journey aboard the La Quila, Frank and Dr. Houghton must overcome wild cats, water rapids, cannibalistic tribes, and cursed Spanish conquistadors. Also seeking the powers of the tree is Prince Joachim (Plemons), who believes the tree will win Germany the first world war.
When Disney first converted its Pirates of the Caribbean ride into a movie in 2003, it spawned a franchise that would become worth billions of dollars. Other attempts at adapting Disney attractions into movies have been less successful, such as the George Clooney-starring Tomorrowland (2015) which struggled to make its budget back and underwhelmed critics. I struggle to foresee Jungle Cruise becoming a blockbuster franchise, but it is a fun movie, nonetheless. Imagine a hybrid of Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones and you should have a good idea of what to expect from Jungle Cruise. The movie includes German bad guys and undead ones. Most of the runtime is spent on a boat in search of a myth. One of the transition scenes is directly taken from when Indiana Jones would fly off to whatever destination his expeditions would take him on…you know, the red dotted lines on the map. The influences present in Jungle Cruise are endless, but the movie is ultimately less than the sum of its parts. The film is visually bland, with a color palette consisting of tan and various shades of green. Jungle Cruise is also reliant on its CG special effects which give the film a more commercial look – more practical effects could’ve immersed us deeper in the jungle. I wish the movie was more imaginative and less formulaic.
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Emily Blunt have both proven over the years to be capable leading men/women. They have charisma and charm, and often fail to disappoint. Johnson flashes his muscles and signature smile, and Blunt is adept at being equally tough as she is pretty; she can do anything. Remember in 2018 when she did the bathtub scene in the horror-thriller A Quiet Place only to fill the family friendly role of Mary Poppins later that same year? I do. The two stars work well with each other, dishing out jabs as often as they receive them. Johnson’s Frank bestows the name “Pants” for Blunt’s Dr. Houghton, to which she retaliates with the name “Skippy”. I particularly enjoyed Jesse Plemons’ over-the-top performance as the film’s main antagonist. He recognizes the unserious nature of the film, and as the German monarch furiously swats at bees and belts out the German national anthem at any opportune moment.
In the end, watching Jungle Cruise is like riding the ride: you go through the motions, enjoy yourself a little bit, and then forget about it on your way to the next attraction Disney has to offer.