‘Jungle Cruise’ Review — All Aboard for a Fun Adventure

GameStop, Inc.

Jungle Cruise ReviewI wouldn’t blame anyone for being cynical towards a movie based upon a Disneyland ride. Of course, we should always be wary of corporate synergy. That being said, the Mouse House has a track record of defeating the cynics, and no better example exists than the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. All it took was a solid script and an energetic director and a smash hit was born. Eventually, as happens, Disney eventually warranted that cynicism with needless and ineffectual sequels, but you still can’t deny that magic from the first Pirates film. Amazingly, it seems as if Disney has turned yet another famous theme park ride into a genuinely entertaining piece of pulpy pop culture with Jungle Cruise. Once again, the combination of charismatic movie stars, an energetic director, and a script that leans into genre, Jungle Cruise provides a pulpy adventure that delights and entertains throughout. I mean, even a harden cynic like myself couldn’t help but be charmed by Jungle Cruise.

Jungle Cruise follows a rather simple and straightforward plot. In 1916, Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) has gotten in her possession an artifact that will guide her to the mythical Tree of Life hidden deep within the jungle of Peru. The Tree of Life possesses immense healing powers and has the potential to end disease on the planet. However, Lily and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) are being chased by the resourceful and determined Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) who will stop at nothing to achieve his demented goals.

In Peru, Lily and MacGregor seek out a guide to lead them on their treacherous journey through the jungle and they find their guide in Frank Wolff (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), a hard-drinking grifter who uses his knowledge and connections to take gullible tourists on trips teeming with “danger.” Early on, there’s a rather clever sequence that plays out like a nice little homage to the famed ride at Disneyland. As Frank leads Lily deeper into the jungle, old secrets are exhumed along with ancient artifacts.

Jungle Cruise doesn’t hide the many influences that its pulling from, and that’s a key part of the charm. Director Jaume Collet-Serra is lifting from a variety of influences, a dash of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a sprinkling of The African Queen, and just a pinch of Romancing the Stone. And the film mostly pulls it off. The script, credited to five separate writers, keeps the plot rather simple and leaves its talented cast plenty of room to bring their charisma to these characters.

The key to Jungle Cruise’s success is the film’s cast. There’s palpable chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, the former using his immense charisma as a comic grifter and the latter as a determined woman undeterred by the rampant sexism of the era. Jack Whitehall’s MacGregor plays as comic relief, a dainty fop used to the finer things forced to live amidst the bugs and creatures in the humid jungle. There’s a scene where MacGregor discusses his homosexuality, but true to Disney’s recent track record on LGTBQ representation its more a bit of lip service than a trailblazing moment of queer representation. Jesse Plemons is having a blast as the film’s Germanic villain. Plemons has always been a captivating presence on the screen, but the actor’s joyous performance is infectious. He chews the scenery as he channels the mannerisms of Werner Herzog – and that isn’t the only reference to Herzog as the film’s main conquistador is named Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez), a nice nod to Herzog’s classic film of the violent conquistadors, Aguirre, The Wrath of God. In a brief role, Paul Giamatti also brings forth a wild comedic energy as Nilo, the Italian businessman whom Frank is in debt to.

Because the film is filled with charismatic actors having fun, the little problems like its rather generic-looking CGI are easily brushed aside. Even Frank’s pet cheetah looks as fake as fake could be, and yet the animators still gave the digital creature enough of a personality that its artificial façade isn’t a negative.

What’s most surprising about Jungle Cruise is the way in which the story is rather explicit in its depiction of the conquistadors, not painting them as noble explorers but as brutal raiders. It’s a tricky balance the film strikes between being unflinching in its portrayal of the conquistadors ghastly violence and making a family adventure film.

For a movie based on a theme park ride, Jungle Cruise is about as good as it can get. It’s a fun adventure film. It doesn’t break any new ground. It’s not something I feel a need to watch again. But for two hours I had fun in the presence of Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, and the madman Jesse Plemons. It’s a deft blend of adventure and humor. And there’s even a hippopotamus.

Jungle Cruise
  • Overall Score


Jungle Cruise defeats the cynics with its exceedingly charming cast in a throwback adventures that blends real world heroism with supernatural insanity.

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