The Disney ride is adapted to a slightly generic, punny action-adventure-romance flick
Jungle Cruise is the latest entry into the world of Disney cinematic adaptations of their own theme park rides. Here we have Emily Blunt as Lily, a British botanist whose studies are ignored by the sexist academy, her affable brother MacGregor (British comic Jack Whitehall) who gets dragged along on her adventure, and Dwayne Johnson as Frank, the steamboat captain they hire to take them down a South American river in search of a mythical all-healing flower. The Tears of the Moon, which doesn’t exactly translate to Lagrimas de Cristal, as they are also confusingly referred to, is hidden deep in the jungle and Lily has stolen the key to finding them.
Does this story sound like an amalgamation of past movie plots? It kind of is. It’s hard to ignore obvious comparisons to The Mummy or Romancing the Stone or The African Queen. This critic even got vibes of Fitzcarraldo at one point in Jungle Cruise. Also, the visual appearance of the undead conquistadors our fearless adventurers have to fight is particularly reminiscent of the sea-ghost pirates in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
For a movie that wants to posit itself on the side of “girl power,” there aren’t enough significant speaking roles for women. There’s Blunt’s Lily and then Veronica Falcón in a few scenes (not enough, in this critic’s opinion) as a witty indigenous woman dealing with colonists as she must. When I saw in the end credits that the screenwriting team were all men, this seemed less of a surprise.
Which is not to say that Jungle Cruise isn’t something of a delight to watch. Johnson’s lines are overrun with puns, so if that is your kind of humor, you are in luck. Whitehall is a joy to watch as his character fumbles throughout the film, and Jesse Plemons (TV’s Friday Night Lights) is on a different level of silliness with his performance as a German baddie. Even Blunt and Johnson share a nice banter in their scenes together, although to this serious fan of romance, the love angle feels like it was thrown in at the last minute.
From the strings opening the film with an adaptation of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” to the end credits, there’s a continuous feeling to Jungle Cruise that it’s too reminiscent of previous creative works. And if one is too busy thinking of other films or books that a film reminds you of, the film itself is going to be less than memorable. So while I may have laughed a lot at Jungle Cruise, it’s doubtful there’s enough here to stick in my mind beyond a month or so.
Jungle Cruise opens Fri, July 30 in theaters and at home with Disney+ Premier Access.