Review by C.J. Bunce
Some movies are exactly as advertised. Count Jungle Cruise in that category. And yet–it’s bigger and bolder and braver than you might have guessed from its trailers. Comparisons to the likes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pirates of the Caribbean, Romancing the Stone, and African Queen are all completely warranted. Jungle Cruise is a big, sweeping adventure–and visual amusement park ride–that draws out the best of stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. First previewed in autumn 2019, it’s another pandemic delay that has the scope and spectacle that would have made it the perfect box office hit in a normal year. But at least now audiences can see what they’ve been missing as Jungle Cruise arrived this past weekend on the Disney Plus streaming service.
If you didn’t like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, you might not like this movie, as Jungle Cruise taps tropes from a few of the films, from the look of its dark fantasy, forest bound fellows (who also conjure the animated creatures of Ray Harryhausen) to Pirates’ trademark Rube Goldberg opening scenes, to Emily Blunt’s heroine Lily Houghton on the search of a mysterious city. Lily also has that fish out of water bit Kathleen Turner created so well in Romancing the Stone (and there is a stone here, too). Classy British lady Lily has both a frenemy/romantic interest in Dwayne Johnson’s dashing ship skipper Frank Wolff, conjuring the African Queen references, and adding the foppish Brit brother played by Jack Whitehall (Good Omens), the trio echoes the set-up in the 1999 cinema rollercoaster ride The Mummy (The Rock co-starred in that series, too).
Plus, there are chases and dire circumstances echoing at least three of the Indiana Jones movies, complete with the obligatory German villain, here played by strangely cast Texas native Jesse Plemons (Black Mirror) as Prince Joachim, providing a spot-on impersonation of Toht from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Joachim’s pursuit of Lily is straight out of The Blues Brothers, complete with a dose of the laughs. Clues out of The Goonies. Even evil Tolkien-esque Ents.
Yes, Johnson looks more like Popeye than Humphrey Bogart, and that works for him. He also brings his more suave persona, and anyone who is a fan of “dad jokes” will appreciate Michael Green‘s (Logan, Death on the Nile) outright silly dialogue for him. Johnson has referred to Blunt’s character as “a female Indiana Jones,” and that’s not wrong. For most of the world–who haven’t ever been to a Disney theme park–it may help to know the movie Jungle Cruise is based on a theme park ride like Pirates of the Caribbean. As much as the latter began as what seemed like a Disney attempt to make some more money off its theme park intellectual property in a new venue, the Pirates films ultimately were a big hit with audiences and a treasure trove for Disney. Jungle Cruise simply nails its challenge of replacing that movie series with something equally good. And I haven’t even mentioned the great Paul Giamatti (Lodge 49, American Splendor, Paycheck) as a ship owner trying to collect a debt against Johnson’s Amazon skipper.
Along with fantastic sets from production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos (Robin Hood, The Lost City of Z), composer James Newton Howard (Dave, Waterworld, The Postman, The Sixth Sense, The Dark Knight, Snow White and the Huntsman) provides a rousing action-adventure score as big and important to the movie as the adventure film music of John Williams. As for the visual effects, look for great underwater scenes and major set pieces–even the CGI tiger and parrot fit well into the movie.
It’s great for the whole family, full of action, adventure, excitement, and fun. Highly recommended, stream Jungle Cruise now on Disney+.