Reel Reviews | Jungle Cruise

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

Another Disney theme park ride comes to life! This time it’s the hokey little steamboat ride that gets the theatrical treatment with Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt as the stars of Jungle Cruise.

Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) has a deep desire to find the fabled Tree of Life which has the reputed potential to heal any disease. Unfortunately, the location of the Tree is lost somewhere in the jungle of the Amazon river. After she steals an amulet with directions, she hires a boat captain, Skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to take her to the location of the Tree. Being the Amazon, there is danger and possibly death around every bend of the river. By the way, a German royal, Prince Joachim, from whose clutches the amulet was taken, is hot on the heels of Lily and searching for the Tree as well. Unfortunately, his intentions are much more nefarious than those of Lily.

The screenplay for Jungle Cruise was written by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa based upon a screen story from John Norville, Josh Goldstein, Ficarra, and Requa which was somewhat loosely based upon the Disney theme park ride of the same name. Cruise stars Emily Blunt, Dwayne Johnson, Edgar Ramirez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Veronica Falcon, and Paul Giamatti. The film is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, Unknown). Reportedly, Johnson was so taken by Collet-Serra’s direction that he recruited him to direct him in the upcoming Black Adam movie.

There are two well-known precedents for this film, movies that are based upon Disney theme park rides. The first is Pirates of the Caribbean which successfully relaunched the career of Johnny Depp and spawned a franchise that has grossed over 4.5 billion dollars worldwide. The other is the mostly forgettable, The Haunted Mansion which grossed a paltry $182 million on a $90 million budget and is just another footnote under bad ideas on the resume of Eddie Murphy.

First of all, Dwayne Johnson is an international superstar. Unlike Depp who was looking for the next phase of his career, Johnson is in the prime of his time. Second, paired with Emily Blunt, another international superstar, the leading duo of this film has a built-in cache to make it immediately successful. Let’s not forget the power that Disney wields currently is much greater than it did decades ago, hence the ability to attract two mega-stars to lead and skilled directors like Jaume Collet-Serra.

So the question begs, where does this film fall?

Jungle Cruise is a very, very entertaining film. It is chocked full of energy and action with much of the action coming from Blunt. Is it surprising that the star of Edge of Tomorrow and A Quiet Place would be involved in action scenes? No, it is a super-smart use of the talent she possesses. Blunt is the lead character of the film and Johnson serves as her accomplice. The chemistry between Johnson and Blunt is electric. They riff off each other with ease and carry each other the way only true stars can. While the stars are perfect together, the scene-stealer is Jack Whitehall’s prissy performance as Lily’s brother, MacGregor. Whitehall adds the perfect amount of comedic touch to scenes that are the spot-on relief to the settings in which he finds himself.

Kudos to the writers who found a way to place The Skipper’s corny puns into the movie. This is the one true direct connection from the movie to the ride. When Johnson introduces the “backside” of water, it is hilarious to those who have never heard it before and perfectly groan-worthy to those who remember.

Caution to parents: there are some scenes that will definitely give nightmares to younger viewers. Edgar Ramirez’s character and his company are grabbed and held by the vines of the jungle in one scene. In another scene, men are composed of snakes that hiss and strike at the screen.

Rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence, Jungle Cruise is a hit, maybe not on the level of the first Pirates but it is a rollicking good time for everyone. Everything is super-cute and over-the-top fun. This is the one summer blockbuster ride that should bring fans flooding back into theaters.

Jungle Cruise is in theaters and on Disney+.

Grade: B