Action Adventure

Review: ‘Jungle Cruise’ is a Fun Homage to Fan-Favorite Adventure Fantasy Fare

July 27, 2021Ben MK

Ever since the early days of cinema, filmgoers have looked to the movies as a form of escapism, a sentiment that applies to theme parks goers as well. It's no surprise, in that case, that Disney has once again turned to one of its most well-known attractions — the Adventureland Jungle Cruise riverboat ride at Disneyland — as the inspiration for its latest live-action blockbuster. Only this time, instead of doing battle with undead pirates, our heroes will have to battle undead conquistadors, as they quest for a magical tree whose petals possess the ability to break any curse and cure any disease.

Set in 1916, Jungle Cruise follows Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), an ahead-of-her-time botanist who grew up listening to the stories her father would tell her about said tree — a legend known to those local to the Amazon as the Tears of the Moon. Now that she's all grown up, however, all she wants to do is prove that the myth is real. Accompanied by her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), Lily travels from wartime London, England to Porto Velho, Brazil, equipped with nothing but an ancient map and a sacred arrowhead that once belonged to the native tribe known as the Guardians of the Tree. Unbeknownst to the two siblings, they aren't the only ones looking for the tree. For the youngest son of Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm, Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), has also arrived in the Amazon — and, unlike his competition, he's brought a small army and a heavily-armed submarine.

Enter Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), the wisecracking skipper of the steamboat La Quila and everyone's go-to tour guide for the cheapest jungle cruise in the Amazon. No stranger to the Tears of the Moon himself, Frank has traversed virtually every one of the Amazon's tributaries in search of the mythical flora and come up empty-handed. Yet, despite his belief that the tree cannot be found, he agrees to provide safe passage upriver for Lily and MacGregor. Together, the trio must contend with Prince Joachim, whose penchant for blasting anything in his path into smithereens threatens to derail their journey before it even begins. It's not long, however, before a much more terrifying threat emerges — 400-year-old cursed conquistador Don Lope de Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez), who will stop at nothing to finally claim the prize that both he and his men died looking for centuries ago.

Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and written by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa and Michael Green, the result is equal parts Indiana Jones, The Mummy and Pirates of the Caribbean, with Blunt and Johnson stealing the show as the bickering duo who love to hate each other, but whom viewers fully expect to end up together. Suffice to say, their chemistry is right up there with the dynamic between Karen Allen and Harrison Ford, Rachel Weisz and Brendan Fraser, and Keira Knightley and Johnny Depp. And although what follows is very much a visual effects extravaganza, one can always count on Jungle Cruise's two leads to bring the humor and the much-needed human element to the film, especially when the vast majority of everything else has been generated by a computer.

As for the rest of the movie, there's no shortage of distractions to captivate audiences, from man-eating piranhas and super-intelligent bees to long lost underwater ruins. In fact, there can be so much going on on-screen at any given time that it can often feel like sensory overload. Thankfully, this is a film aimed more squarely at younger kids than Disney's other recent live-action offerings, such as Cruella and the remake of Mulan. And in that respect, it's probably for the best that Jungle Cruise isn't nearly as relaxed as its title implies.

Jungle Cruise will be released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 30th. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence. Its runtime is 2 hrs. 7 min.

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