Pirates of the Caribbean this ain’t, but Disney basing yet another one of their films on a theme park ride only to have it work better than expected, firmly puts this one in the “win” column for me!
Set during World War I along a portion of the world-famous Amazon River, Jungle Cruise sees botanist, Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), her overly pampered brother, MacGregor Houghton (Jack Whitehall), and riverboat skipper, Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) as they track down what could quite possibly be a cure-all herb for everything that ails humanity: a flower from a pseudo-Tree of Life called the Tears of the Moon that has been hidden deep within the jungle for longer than many can remember. Reluctant to join forces a first, the ragtag trio of Lily, MacGregor and Frank eventually draw the ire of German royal, Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who not only wants to acquire the bloom for his own nefarious reasons, but has also unleashed a centuries old evil to help do his bidding; an evil that holds ties to the Tears of the Moon, our heroes, and the fate of the world.
Basically Pirates of the Caribbean-lite in terms of its scripting, humor, action, and overall look and feel, Jungle Cruise is undoubtedly working from he same mold as the Pirates franchise, yet is still able to do enough at a base level to make it feel unique on its own. Springing from the decidedly odd yet ultimately successful pairing of Blunt and The Rock, Jungle Cruise is a film that isn’t afraid to go big in a blockbuster sense of the word, while still giving its characters something to do development-wise that doesn’t always end in a CGI-fueled spectacle.
Kicking things off with a fun, albeit derivative hook that sees a cursed group of Spanish conquistadors set in motion events that will plague our protagonists centuries down the line, the script is a surprisingly quickly paced affair that hits a lot of different story and characters beats along the way, with some more worth the audience’s attention than others. Fun, entertaining and explosive when it wants to be, this movies lives and dies by the chemistry of its leads, and while they play off each other nicely when needed, the script doesn’t do the same for the antagonists of the film, a sticking point for me that lessened my enjoyment of what I saw more than anything.
Feeling entirely unnecessary as a character and acting more like a plot device than anything else (though I understand the script needed some kind of continuing threat to push our heroes along), Jesse Plemons’ German prince annoyed me to a point that I felt like his very presence messed with the balance of the movie as a whole, never feeling like a legit character that needed as much screen time as he received, and never truly becoming the antagonist he needed to be. For that, the script turns to the cursed Spanish conquistadors (who should have been more prevalent in the script overall, mind you), and while they definitely feel like a retread of Davy Jones’ sea-changed lackeys from the second Pirates film, they were much more interesting as villains overall compared to Plemons’ relatively one-note character, and end up getting the short end of the stick where it counts.
Antagonist problems aside, Jungle Cruise is a lot of fun through and through, mostly due to the visually stunning action scenes that move at an impressively fast and organic pace, bolstered further by fun interactions between characters, an adventurous feel that hits more than misses, and an appealing look that brings the vibrancy and danger of the Amazon to the forefront in a successful and competent way. That being said, the script does stall from time to time when the quips and action set pieces die down, but not enough to call into question its effectiveness overall, despite navigating some rough waters from time to time.
At the end of the day, Jungle Cruise is a fun and breezy family-oriented adventure film that wears its Pirates of the Caribbean influence on its sleeve, but with a script that isn’t as consistent or interesting as it thinks it is, as well as a secondary villain that felt forced and simply unnecessary from the start, and this film is just good enough to make audiences pay attention until the credits roll, even with its handful of flaws. Regardless, I love me some Emily Blunt no matter what she’s in, so it’s fun to see her in a movie like this (opposite The Rock nonetheless), and although its clear that the inevitable sequel will most likely be a much more balanced and (hopefully) better affair, this one knows what it is and delivers accordingly.