Are you a fan of 1999’s The Mummy with Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz, and John Hannah? If so, then you’re probably going to enjoy Disney’s Jungle Cruise which basically replaces Fraser with Dwayne Johnson, Weisz with Emily Blunt, and Hannah with Jack Whitehall. Oh, and the action moves from Egypt to the Amazon and instead of the Book of the Living it’s a rare tree the intrepid adventurers are after. Also, the mummies are subbed out for undead Conquistadors.
At their core, they’re basically the same movie. I challenge you to prove me wrong.
Johnson stars as riverboat captain Frank Wolff, a guy who barely makes a living off of tourists eager for a guided tour down the Amazon River. Once onboard his beloved boat, La Quila, Frank’s guests are forced to suffer through an increasingly corny series of jokes while simultaneously being worried about the very real possibility their lives are in the hands of a madman. His captive audience is incapable of escaping from his pun-heavy narration as jumping off the boat in the middle of the Amazon and being eaten by piranhas is slightly less appealing than suffering through cheesy jokes.
Frank’s busy attempting to keep a step ahead of Nilo (Paul Giamatti), the owner of every other sightseeing boat working out of the same harbor in Brazil, when Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) arrives in need of passage down the Amazon. Lily managed to steal a mysterious arrowhead that’s the key to finding an ancient tree known as Tears of the Moon during a daring robbery at the headquarters of London’s Royal Geographical Society.
Lily’s got grit, determination, and a sidekick brother named MacGregor (Jack Whitehall). What she doesn’t have is the means to find the legendary ancient tree thought to have unparalleled healing powers without a guide who knows his way around the river.
Although they initially bump heads – of course they do because that’s a box that needs to be checked off in this sort of film – the pair manage to find common ground and piece together the clues as to the tree’s whereabouts. With a destination in mind, Frank and Lily set off on a wild and wacky cruise involving headhunters, undead Conquistadors, hundreds of snakes, and a pet jaguar named Proxima who Lily’s brother affectionately dubs “Murder Cat.”
If the story had kept it simple, Jungle Cruise would be a total blast. Instead, there’s a weird mishmash of supporting storylines that aren’t nearly as entertaining as watching Johnson and Blunt exchange insults. (He calls her Pants; she calls him Skippy. The banter’s not highbrow but it is entertaining.)
Jesse Plemons shows up as Prince Joachim, a bizarre German prince inflicted with a Hogan’s Heroes-esque accent. Somehow, Prince Joachim is able to communicate with map-reading bees and supernatural snakes, and he’s just as committed to obtaining the Tears of the Moon as Lily. He’s got money to burn and a submarine worthy of Captain Nemo at his disposal. All he needs is Lily’s arrowhead.
Prince Joachim’s more annoying than dastardly and hardly a worthy adversary for the combined forces of Lily and Frank.
Edgar Ramirez stars as one of those undead Conquistadors mentioned previously. The film’s version of the walking dead are legitimately creepy and we do ultimately find out why they are rotting away yet still walking the earth. The film takes a supernatural turn as secrets are revealed and a twist that feels rammed into the story raises its ugly head.
Look, you’ve got Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt cruising down the Amazon tossing out barbs. It’s not necessary to overload the plot with characters that shift focus from our heroes.
Disney launched a blockbuster box office franchise by adapting their popular theme park ride Pirates of the Caribbean for the screen. There was very little of the ride itself in the films, that is other than the whole “pirates” theme. In bringing Jungle Cruise alive on screen, writers Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa drew inspiration from many of the actual scenes in the theme park ride, including the charging hippos. They also lifted some of the ride’s goofiest puns – including the one about the back side of water – and gave them to Johnson’s riverboat captain Frank to deliver. The fact it’s Johnson wrapping his tongue around the ridiculous puns actually makes them land more frequently than they deserve to.
Johnson’s so completely charming as Frank that much of what shouldn’t work about the film does because he forces it to. Same with his equally talented co-star Emily Blunt. Blunt’s able to squeeze laughs out of bits that wouldn’t have worked at all in lesser hands. She also has the opportunity to show off her action skills in multiple slapstick action sequences that liven up the first half of the film.
Jack Whitehall’s a scene-stealing delight as Lily’s fastidious brother, MacGregor. A reluctant third wheel forced into partaking in this crazy adventure, MacGregor’s pushed out of his comfort zone and arrives at Frank’s boat with nearly a dozen trunks loaded with formal attire, assorted daywear, tennis racquets, and golf clubs. MacGregor’s arc is one of the film’s best, and Whitehall does a terrific job of making him into a multi-layered character rather than just a dude brought along for the ride.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra’s Jungle Cruise is at its best when Johnson and Blunt square off. The chemistry’s there and both embrace the absurd while never winking at the audience. Go in with expectations of nothing more than a fun summer popcorn action-comedy and you’ll be just fine. Just don’t think too hard about the plot and enjoy the ride.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for adventure violence
Release Date: July 30, 2021
Running Time: 2 hours 7 minutes