Disney’s next chapter in adapting everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) into a movie property, JUNGLE CRUISE is just the right amount of three-star, Saturday matinee entertainment that I have been searching for this summer. Reminding me more of Stephen Sommers’ 1999 popcorn adventure THE MUMMY with a couple of dashes of the the INDIANA JONES series for good measure, there is very little that’s original here but it more than makes itself up with great energy from its leads and a gorgeous visual design.
The simple setup; Beginning in 1916 in WW1 set London, Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) is a strong-willed woman who is searching for an arrowhead in the Amazon that will lead her to the Tears Of The Moon and a type of petal that grants healing power to anyone who has it. Along with her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall, whose mannerisms and dialogue is nearly a carbon copy of John Hannah’s character in THE MUMMY), they enlist the help of tour guide Frank Skipper Wolf (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to find their destination.
There is only so much you can do from adapting a Disney theme park ride…but it’s a good one! I remember enjoying the ride as a kid and later years as a young adult. I distinctly remember the tour guide taking us all along for the journey and making quips as it goes along, and that is amusingly represented here in a fun scene where Wolff uses some sleight of hand to amuse his tourists. Later, we learn a bit more of Wolff’s back-story and slow reveal of his connections to the Amazon that are thankfully more storytelling than more recent Marvel movies which are all story.
When the adventure picks up, I admired how the pacing remained tight and enjoyable, even at the slightly two-hour-plus run time. Where any studio movie can fail is if the two leads, who are at each other’s wits, can easily lead to annoying banter. Here, Johnson and Blunt have a very good rapport; they don’t have the greatest romantic chemistry, I’ll admit, but I did get a lot of laughs out of repeated jokes from both of them. There’s also fun support by Jesse Plemons as the German baddie Prince Joachim; Plemons has a direct connection to my funny bone after his too-serious cop in GAME NIGHT and he also brings the funny here too.
What genuinely surprised me was to see that the movie was directed by Jaume Collett-Serra, most known to me for directing solid Liam Neeson action movies like NON-STOP and THE COMMUTER and the Blake Lively shark thriller THE SHALLOWS. I have always admired his lean and mean approach to filmmaking, and Serra leads a terrific group of his usual filmmaking team with their trademark visual design throughout JUNGLE CRUISE, all the way down to the criminally underrated Edgar Ramirez as the conquistador.
There’s really not much to rave about with JUNGLE CRUISE other than it’s a lot of fun, has a strong energy, an engaging narrative…and not much to remember after. And that’s not bad either. This is such a satisfying summer adventure that goes good with a large buttered popcorn and your drink of choice. Just don’t take this seriously and have a good time.
JUNGLE CRUISE is now playing in theatres where available and Disney+ Premiere Access. My thanks to Disney PR for sending along an advance copy for review.