Great cast chemistry and a surprisingly clever plot twist elevates Jungle Cruise from the standard summer CGI spectacle. The film has no down beats over its swift two hour runtime. Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra keeps the action and comedy flowing at a deliberate pace. The measured drip of excitement overcomes the sillier parts of the narrative. Fans of the Disney theme parks attraction will certainly get a kick out of the live-action adaptation.
Jungle Cruise opens in 1916 London during the first World War. Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) refuses to follow society’s restrictive standards for women. She uses her prissy younger brother, McGregor (Jack Whitehall), as an accomplice to archaeological larceny. Lily is convinced that a recently found artifact will lead to a world-changing secret hidden deep on the Amazon River. She whisks McGregor to South America with the ruthless German Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) hot on their trail.
Meanwhile in remote Brazil, Skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) makes a meager living scaring rich tourists on his dilapidated boat. He slickly cons Lily and McGregor to hire him for their expedition. But as they embark into the dangerous unknown, supernatural forces are also conspiring against them. A cursed conquistador (Édgar Ramírez) and his followers are desperate to end their misery.
Jungle Cruise has a very similar feel to 1999’s The Mummy with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. A mismatched couple and tagalong brother face powerful antagonists on a mystical quest. Blend character likeability with deadpan humor, chase scenes, and big-budget special effects. Then voilà, a hit franchise is born. Jungle Cruise sticks to this formula like glue. Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, and Jack Whitehall play their parts perfectly. It’s not original in any sense, but works like a charm if done correctly. Jaume Collet-Serra has the chops to make a pure action film. He’s made three Liam Neeson thrillers (Non-Stop, Run All Night, The Commuter). I give him credit for finding his family comedy gear.
Jungle Cruise can’t help but beat you over the head with constant references to gender and sexual rights. Lily shocks by wearing pants. Which is brought up repeatedly as a joke to highlight her rebel status. Frank actually nicknames her “pants”. Then you have McGregor explaining why he’s not married. I sincerely appreciate Disney’s inclusivity efforts. It’s great to have films that reflect all stripes of people. It doesn’t have to be addressed out loud all the time. The audience is savvy enough to understand equality on screen without being verbally spoon-fed.
The river boat ride gets a better than expected film. Jungle Cruise is not in the league of the first Pirates of the Caribbean, but definitely worth seeing. A whopper reveal stands out and is well placed in the story. It caught me completely off guard; a genuine moment of shock that adds an unexpected angle to the final act. Jungle Cruise is produced by Walt Disney Pictures, Davis Entertainment, Flynn Picture Company, and Seven Bucks Productions. It will be released theatrically on July 30th and Disney+ Premier Access.
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