By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Disney’s Jungle Cruise is not the most original tale based on one of their rides. We see and hear nearly everything from that park attraction used in some capacity in the cinematic take about taking on the dangers of the Amazon river. It works to make this world come alive. Add in some mystique with fabled fauna, namely the Tree of Life where a leaf is said to cure any disease or magical curse, and that’s the start of a franchise!
The backstory is the best part, and I’d watch a film based on that alone. The symphonic version of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” is perfect to drive home the context in what drives those characters. Anyone who doesn’t know the lyrics would be missing a nuance. Fortunately, the song title speaks for itself. That also includes the relentless pursuit for the gold by the present treasure seekers.
Even the crazy comedy and terrible puns from the attraction are used to a chuckle-worthy, groaning effect. Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), the captain of one of a few boats on the Amazon, knows how to pitch that sale and we can chortle along. Johnson is wonderful as always, and his comic timing actually makes those laughs work. But he has a secret that nobody knows about. It’s not an amazing one, but that reveal helps establish how this franchise can move forward.
Wolff is not taking anyone on a three-hour tour. However, for Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), are looking for the said magical tree to study. All she needs are a few leaves (known as the Tears of the Moon) off it so she can reshape medical history. Unfortunately, they aren’t the only ones who know of its mystical property. Had Lily kept quiet instead of convincing the Explorers Club for recognition to embark on this search, maybe the Nazis wouldn’t get involved.
The race is on to find the gold: Whoever holds the arrowhead has the key to find the secrets to immortality.
The adventure is very familiar. It uses the same beats that The Mummy (1999) established. From a silly library sequence to introducing the threats, I’ve seen it before. We even have a brother and sister dynamic that’s exactly the same as Johnathon and Evie. Of the latter, the personality is a carbon copy. The corny dialogue and set up of events even has a similar vibe. What’s different are the zombies. Their jungle look is a mixed bag between cool and not always convincing. The honey-combed conquistador is hard to swallow.
I also would’ve preferred less use of CGI-rendered animals to populate the world. This film could’ve been trimmed by 10 minutes because of all those inserts. It made me think I was watching an early Harry Potter movie, if not Indiana Jones and the Legend of the Crystal Skull.
The mythology is at least in line to high adventure style stakes. Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), the bad guy, nearly steals the show because that’s just one crazy personality. I sensed a bit of Benny Hill in the performance, and it works. Had the movie included involvement with the Great War in a greater capacity, I’d think of him as a Nazi Sympathizer. Most of the other characters aren’t as over the top. The Rock is playing with his usual range to define his Frank personality.
Despite a great cast and a very Pirates of the Caribbean style finale, where the blood moon plays a significant role, the real magic is in how perfect Johnson and Blunt play off each other. Those types of synergies only happen once a blue moon. As for finding the flower which blooms just as rarely, we all know its discovery and destroying access so no others can misuse it is inevitable.
I’ll watch any movie Dwayne Johnson appears in. His presence makes the movies he appears in, especially the comedies, fun. As for whether a sequel will be made sooner than later, it’s tough to say. This actor is busy and needs one franchise to finish before he can commit to another. When he reveals his past, I couldn’t help but wonder if the writers really wanted Francisco to be from the de Orellana clan instead of de Heredia. The former is a well-known Spanish explorer who successfully navigated the waterway. He came home with many tales to recount. One included an encounter with women as fierce as the mythical Amazonian Greek female warriors and the name stuck. In order to make the historical version work means rewriting his final years.
Admittedly, I’d love to see Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise crossover. It’d have to be in an in-between time where Frank won’t have his “love interest” around. Also, it’d have to be set along the riverine somehow when considering the limitations of the curse. It’s possible to include the search for El Dorado or Fountain of Life since they’re rumoured to be hiding somewhere in the Amazon.
4 Stars out of 5