“Jungle Cruise” is a rip-roaring adventure the whole family can enjoy. A joygasm of entertainment and pulpy action sequences will evoke memories of “Romancing the Stone” and “Jewel of the Nile.” Heart, fun, and suspense are all wrapped neatly into a tale of an explorer chartering a sea cruise into the Amazon in search of a mythical healing source. The chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt certainly stood out. Did I enjoy seeing Blunt be the alpha in this relationship for the majority of the film? Of course! What many won’t focus on is Dwayne’s chemistry is equally as good with Jack Whitehall.
What surprised me about the film is how this was more of an ensemble piece than your typical vehicle starring either The Rock or Emily Blunt. While Blunt and Johnson are certainly good in the film, “Jungle Cruise” doesn’t nearly come off as well without the contributions of Jack Whitehall, Edgar Ramirez, and Paul Giamatti. Director Jaume Collet-Serra didn’t set out to make some rote piece for Disney. His vision was a heartfelt adventure that pleased audiences across all age groups. In my mind, “Jungle Cruise” embodies what a summer movie is supposed to be.
The film is about Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt) who is an intrepid researcher and explorer in search of a tree in the Amazon with unparalleled healing abilities which would change medicine forever. She enlists the help of Skipper Frank Wolff (Johnson) and his ship La Quila to guide her downriver. What starts off as a foolish quest, quickly becomes an epic quest full of danger and supernatural forces lurking in the shadows.
What appealed to me initially was how the film was structured. The scene where Dr. Houghton acquires the arrowhead to track down this mythical tree had an Indiana Jones quality to it. It was important to establish early on who the hero was in the film. Whitehall plays her brother in the film an important piece of the puzzle as well. While Blunt’s Dr. Houghton always appears to maintain some seriousness, Frank always manages to add comedic relief at just the right moment. This continues further into the film when all three of them are on the boat. The dynamic that these three have in the film is very similar to the one Douglas, Keaton, and Devito had in both “Romancing the Stone” and “Jewel of the Nile”.
“Jungle Cruise” does do a great job of connecting the fate of Lily and Frank within a plausible framework of this narrative. Well, as plausible as a film can be about a mythical tree that blooms leaves that heal all disease. The action sequence did have a bit of whimsy to them. We are all used to seeing Johnson pull off these magnificent action sequences; seeing both characters fail during a big moment multiple times inject an element of realism into the film and humanized our protagonists.
Jesse Plemons is surprisingly great as the film’s main villain (a German sub captain looking for the same tree as Lily). Some of the best action sequences in “Jungle Cruise” involve the La Quila outwitting the German sub. The fact that he was so effective did leave me wondering why the film didn’t use him more. It seems Director Jaume Collet-Serra was focused on adding a supernatural layer to the film, which was unnecessary. What happens when a film has too much going on, both things get muddled. Keeping it simple is often a better course of action.
Instead, we have this great concept for a character, a cursed conquistador played by Edgar Ramirez, who could have easily been the main villain but is reduced to a minimal part in the film. If it had been me, I’d probably found a way to minimize Plemons character and allow Ramirez character to become the film’s central villain. Ramirez as Aguirre could have been as big as Davy Jones in “Pirates of the Caribbean. Am I a bit nit-picky here? Sure, because the film still, even with issues, “Jungle Cruise” is entertaining as hell.
At the end of the day, that’s what “Jungle Cruise” is all about. The value of being entertained in this COVID era of theatrical viewing is often discounted. Think about how many critics had negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes about “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” The film is still doing well at the box office. Why? Because the target audience loved it regardless of popular opinion. That’s what’s likely to occur with “Jungle Cruise”. No amount of criticism will curtail the need for escapism. “Jungle Cruise” provides that escape from the malaise and sweltering temperatures of the past few months while delivering for the fans a top-notch experience.