An old school adventure stays afloat with a modern twist
Jungle Cruise is in theaters and available for streaming for $29.99 on Disney+
By Diana Beechener
Botanist Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt: A Quiet Place 2) is constantly dismissed by the “boys club” of professional scientific organizations. Her findings are laughed at, her ideas not even considered. She’s forced to have her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall: Good Omens) present her papers to even get an audience with those that fund expeditions.
It’s a miserable slog trying to get recognition in a man’s world, which is probably why Lily isn’t above cutting a few corners. When her latest proposal—to fund an expedition to retrieve the legendary Tears of the Moon from the Amazon—is rejected, Lily decides to steal the artifact she needs and plan the trip herself.
Lily wants to use the legendary healing powers of the Tears of the Moon to stop the suffering caused by World War I. Unfortunately, she’s not the only party interested. Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons: Judas and the Black Messiah), an heir to Kaiser Wilhelm II, sees power in the possession of such a potent item. So, he follows Lily to the Amazon in a submarine hoping to acquiring the Tears of the Moon first.
It’s a race to the heart of the Amazon, and Lily hires Frank (Dwayne Johnson: Young Rock) to get her and her brother to the finish line. Too bad Frank’s a hustling reprobate that’s never met a paying customer he didn’t want to swindle.
Can Lily and Frank learn to trust each other? Or is selfishness going to sink the voyage before it begins?
A family friendly blockbuster with laughs, thrills, and adventure, Jungle Cruise is exactly the type of movie that’s meant to be seen on a big screen with a bucket of popcorn and a big crowd. If you prefer to watch at home, the movie will be available on Disney+, but this is a movie that truly belongs in theaters.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra (The Commuter) brilliantly juggles adventure movie tropes, keeping the pace breezy and the tone just the right side of silly. Because Collet-Serra is so familiar with the adventure tropes he’s working with, he uses them to great effect.
Johnson’s Frank is clearly styled after Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen. The action scenes are nods to the Indiana Jones films and the plotting in general is reminiscent of ‘40s serial films and The Mummy franchise. In fact, the whole film feels like 1980s’-era Stephen Spielberg directed The Mummy—and that’s high praise indeed for any film.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t have a few modern concessions. Collet-Serra might have the distinction of being the first Disney director to have a gay character that isn’t just paying lip service to representation in a scene that can easily be cut when the film is sold to foreign audiences. The filmmaker also pays tribute to the House of Mouse by peppering the film with fun little Disney Easter eggs. Unlike Cruella, where the source material felt like a yoke around the neck of the film, Jungle Cruise has fun with its origins. Johnson does a hilarious proximity of the spiel you get on the ride, there’s little nods to the characters and effects that you find if you’ve ever visited the theme park attraction.
Jungle Cruise is also a fantastic vehicle for both Blunt and Johnson, who have extremely good chemistry. They’re echoes of Hepburn and Bogart, as they bicker and flirt their way along the river. Johnson in particular manages to use his considerable charisma to make Frank’s duplicitous ways funny instead of gross.
Though the film is a nostalgic romp, there are a few throwbacks that could have been thrown away. Paul Giamatti shows up with a very questionable Italian accent. Indigenous people are used as cannon fodder so the leads can feel imperiled. Still, Jungle Cruise goes out of its way to demonstrate who the true villains of the film are (hint: it’s not the indigenous people).
Whether you have fond memories of watching Raiders of the Lost Ark or simply want a blockbuster that entertains the whole family, Jungle Cruise is a safe bet for your weekend. If you’re comfortable enough to see it in theaters and appreciate the goofy 3D effects, go for it, but this movie is pretty darn entertaining even streaming on a small screen.
Great Family Adventure * PG-13 * 129 mins.