Upon the release of “Jungle Cruise,” Disney has given another one of their Disneyland attractions the adaptation treatment. With the likes of “Haunted Mansion” and “Tomorrowland” under their belts, this mass media company is no stranger to bringing their rides to the big screen. The company’s most successful of the ride-based films, however, is the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series. Now stretching over five films, each film in the series was a massive box office hit and has become a force in popular culture arguably greater than some Disney classics. It is therefore no surprise that “Jungle Cruise” takes a lot of cues from the series, creating an end product that inherits both the good and bad from “Pirates” as it tries to adhere closely to their proven formula.
Jungle Cruise follows Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), an adventurous English archeologist desperate to find the Tears of the Moon, a mythical flower of legend that is said to be able to heal any injury. She heads to the Amazon with her worry-wart brother (Jack Whitehall) and meets arrogant river boat captain and conman Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), who ferries them along the river toward their goal. They have to overcome cursed conquistadores, mysterious natives and German explorers who want to take the flower for themselves as they head down the river on their quest.
Even from its synopsis, it is clear that “Jungle Cruise” takes a great deal of influence from “Pirates,” particularly the first film, “The Curse of the Black Pearl.” Both films feature a mixture of cursed and government villains and are focused on quests for a mystical relic. The challenges that Blunt’s character faces as a woman are tackled the same way as with Keira Knightley’s Eilzabeth Swann. They both have a sort of episodic structure as they move from location to location. Beyond just a surface level, these two movies feel extremely eerily similar. It is clear that Disney wanted to replicate the feeling of a theme park ride with both movies making them feel like nonstop adventures from start to finish.
Like “Pirates,” “Jungle Cruise” rests in the hands of its star leads. Emily Blunt is a joy as Lily. She brings an excitable, vibrant energy to the character that really makes her lust for adventure palpable. Alongside her is Dwayne Johnson. Johnson does his usual “The Rock” character, bringing exactly the same performance he has given in every movie in the last 10 years. He doesn’t come close to melting into his character like Johnny Depp did with Jack Sparrow, though he certainly isn’t shooting for that either. Jesse Plemons is good as the villainous Prince Joachim who, while not quite the threat that Geoffrey Rush brought to Barbossa in “Pirates,” was fun to root against and created a ticking clock for the adventurers expedition. With that said, the big stars at the center of the film make this adventure fun and these performances are the movie’s biggest strength.
One part that doesn’t really work in “Jungle Cruise,” however, is the romance. It is painfully obvious from very early on that Blunt and Johnson’s characters are going to turn their bickering into a passionate kiss by the end of the film. It’s weirdly forced and all the romantic tropes and cliches that go in it are unnatural and don’t create an interesting romantic dynamic between the leads. Blunt and Johnson have undeniable chemistry, but never in a way that seems like it should lead to a romance. Johnson in particular always seems like a mostly sexless movie star. He looks like a cartoon man, making him sort of unbelievable as a romantic interest. This doesn’t bring the film crashing down, but it does make it stumble.
The biggest difference between “Jungle Cruise” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” is the films’ approach to humor. “Jungle Cruise” is a lot more joke-heavy. The humor in “Pirates” comes mostly from the outrageousness of Jack Sparrow played against a series of straight men, while in “Jungle Cruise,” the whole cast gets in on the jokes. Both Blunt and Johnson do well to be funny in their own unique ways, with additional humor coming in through the interplay between each other. However, the film mostly relies on Jack Whitehall for comic relief. Whitehall’s character spends almost the entire movie being scared and reluctant about every twist and turn of the adventure. He has his moments, but this character and his shtick get old fast, making audiences wish it was just Blunt and Johnson. The film also has some surprising adult jokes (with one extended suxual innuendo in particular coming to mind) that sometimes feel a bit out of place in a typically family friendly romp such as this.
Overall, “Jungle Cruise” is a lot of fun. It keeps a breakneck pace from start to finish which is carried on the shoulders of two big movie star performances. It doesn’t bring anything to the table that hasn’t been seen before, but it’s sure to bring excitement and adventure for everyone.
“Jungle Cruise” is available through Premiere Access on Disney Plus and is now showing in theaters.
By Ben Lindner