Review: ‘Jungle Cruise’ is fun!

Given the state of the world, it might be a more interesting fact that Disney hasn’t made more films based on the rides at their theme parks. I know that’s a weird thing to think about, but the future is weird. Disney is a vast, money-making empire and can monetize its properties like no other vast, money-making empire, and many of the rides in its parks are iconic.

Now, I know what you might be thinking, that it’s maybe a little cynical to make a movie based on a theme park ride, but to that, I say two things. First: tell it to the Pirates of the Caribbean, and second you can make a good movie out of anything. Here to prove that second point is Jungle Cruise, a good movie based on a theme park ride.

The story begins with Dr Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) embarking on a journey to Brazil to seek out a lost magical Tree of Life, using an artefact they … liberated from a society of explorers that wanted nothing to do with them. There, they secure the services of Frank, the skipper of a jungle riverboat, to take them up the Amazon to find said magical tree. Hot on their heels is the delightfully mad Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who wants the tree for himself. Living in the jungle is a band of cursed conquistadors led by Édgar Ramírez, who also need the tree to break their curse.

Basically, we are talking about a mashup of several influences, all of which the movie wears on its sleeve. The story and characters borrow heavily from both Pirates of the Caribbean and the 1990s The Mummy franchises. There are several other references as well, most notably to The African Queen, but the thing you really need to know is that director Jaume Collet-Serra is aiming squarely at the same energy as the 1999s The Mummy. This, for the record, is a good thing: that movie is fun, and so is this one.

Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, and Jack Whitehall in Jungle Cruise.

Does it reach the same heights that The Mummy did in 1999 or Pirates of the Caribbean did in 2003? Well…. no, not quite. It’s a little overlong, the plot is maybe a little too convoluted, and some of the action scenes are shot with so many cuts that the geography can be a little confusing. However, the stuff that works –namely the cast and overall direction– really work.

We know that Johnson and Blunt are reliably charismatic. Hence, it only makes sense that they can be charismatic together and creating a similar dynamic as Fraser and Weisz in The Mummy, but it’s the supporting players that steal the show. Jack Whitehall –who despite several high profile projects still hasn’t really broken out in America– has not only good timing and physicality as the bumbling little brother character, but brings soul where it’s needed, too.

Likewise, having proven himself repeatedly as a reliable character actor, Jesse Plemons steals every scene he is in as the over the top, german prince villain. This is a role that only just stops short of asking him literally to twirl his moustache, and honestly, this reviewer enjoyed every second of his performance.

Jaume Collet-Serra is a reliable filmmaker, and while Jungle Cruise may not have quite the same personal touch as some of his previous work (action scenes do feel like they were shot with a second unit), it is still definitely his movie. Is it going to win best picture or sneak in something that might make you reconsider some societal norm? No. You know what it is, though? A good time at the movies, and that’s something that I feel like we all really need about now.

Other Thoughts:

  • There is an animal character created entirely in CGI, and it made me miss real animals on movie sets.
  • Édgar Remírez and Paul Giamatti are both here, but while it’s always nice to see them both, neither gets a lot to do.
  • Over the last several years, any time there has been a character that is LGBTQ+ in their films, Disney has made a big deal out of it, and then it turns out that the character is just in the background. This movie has a gay character in the main cast, and his orientation is character relevant, and I can’t recall hearing a single peep about it ahead of time. Weird!
  • I really do hope that Jack Whitehall breaks out a little over here. He’s a funny guy.
  • Johnson spends the whole movie making dad jokes, and I enjoyed every single one of them.
  • I don’t know if there’s a series in this, but I would like to see more movies like this, please.

Jungle Cruise premieres in theatres and on Disney+ with premium access this Friday, July 30th


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