Review: Jungle Cruise

By Christian DiMartino

Readers, I apologize for being a week late in reviewing Jungle Cruise. Last weekend came the arrival The Green Knight and Stillwater, on top of juggling life and company from out of town. Hence why it took me so long. I will do better next time.

Disney’s Jungle Cruise is, in the grand tradition of Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion, based on the Disneyland/ Disneyworld ride. Which, right away, leads one to believe there is an immediate lack of inspiration. Though what comes as little surprise is that Jungle Cruise feels more like an Indiana Jones movie than anything else, and depending on your enjoyment of those, your enjoyment of Jungle Cruise remains to be seen. As I see it, if you have an issue with an Indiana Jones movie, well, who are you?

Anyways, Jungle Cruise. You don’t go to a movie like Jungle Cruise for a rich plot or depth or any of that. It’s not the kind of film that sets out to blow your mind, but it does take take your mind off of everything else for two hours, and it does it quite nicely. The movie is fun, mostly funny, colorful and charming, anchored by two leads who happen to be two of the most winning stars in the movies today. Change your life, it won’t, but worse things have happened.

How does one turn a Disney ride into a movie? Well, they’ve done it at least 6 times- with the aforementioned Pirates of the Caribbean saga and The Haunted Mansion. I think there’s a Tower of Terror out there too. Yet as cinematic ride adaptations (?) come, Jungle Cruise works better than some of those. It’s funny, watching it, I highly doubt that when the ride first opened, they ever envisioned a movie, let alone a movie featuring submarines, people talking to bees, ancient conquistadors who happen to be snake/bug/ tree humanoids, etc. It’s all totally silly, but cheerfully so.

Front and center are, again, two of the most winning movie stars in the world: Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson. Seriously, they’re as bankable and likable as anyone around right now, and their watchability makes all of this somewhat swashbuckling feel more like cinematic comfort food. They’re not just selling the story, but they’re selling the movie, and pretty much immediately, sold we are. Now that’s star power.

Set a long time ago (the best I got), Blunt is Lily, a charming explorer who, with her brother MacGregor (a charming, occasionally scene-stealing Jack Whitehall) is in search of some lost forbidden tree or something called the Flowers of the Sun… or something, which is located in the Amazon. I don’t know if that’s what it’s actually called- all that kept coming to mind was the upcoming Martin Scorsese/ Jesse Plemmons film Killers of the Flower Moon. Speak of the devil, Plemmons also stars here as one Prince Joachim, who is also in search of the flower blah blah. Plemmons is basically playing an animated Disney villain brought to life, and with his accent and all, it’s a goofy, over the top treat to see him.

So basically Joachim chases after them and follows them on their expedition. Before they get started though, they know they’ll need a boat. So they hire Frank (Johnson), a sailor who does jungle cruises on the side. This is where the connection to the ride stems from: Frank takes people on these cruises and makes punny jokes. I’ve always admired the people who work on the ride, because it requires someone who is naturally funny and has quick timing. Which Johnson does. Anyways, Frank is sly and something of a conman, but they put their faith in him anyways, and sail off in search of the flower thingy.

Along the way they see animals and run into one obstacle after another. Though things do get weird, and Pirates of the Caribbean-esque, with a character played by Edgar Ramirez. He’s a conquistador named Aguirre (like Aguirre: The Wrath of God? Dunno) who, with his fellow conquistadors, has been cursed by the jungle and are now basically evil spirit monsters. The film is directed by Jaume Collett-Serra, who seems like an unusual choice, in that he’s never made anything family oriented. He’s made a slew of Liam Neeson thrillers (Unknown, Non Stop) and some entertaining horror thrillers (Orphan, The Shallows). Yet all of them are pretty entertaining, and this one isn’t an exception.

In my eyes, it’s kind of hard to make a movie like this bad, and Serra checks off all of his boxes. It’s fun, funny enough (a joke or two might not land as well as the movie thinks). It looks great too, and for a movie that was probably mostly filmed on a green screen, it didn’t distract. It’s just a solid, fun time, with performers who are totally game. The climax does go on a bit long, and is mostly just visual clutter. Yet the film is enough fun to make it okay. It’s total fluff, but it’s decently entertaining stuff.

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