I’m going to say it—Jungle Cruise assures Jaume Collet-Serra’s position as the most dependable blockbuster filmmaker in Hollywood. Disney’s attraction-turned-actioner never stinks of merchandising gimmickry nor fails the nuclear charms of its leading, nay entire, cast. Who knew a mundane safari floater could become this Brazilian blend of The Mummy, Indiana Jones, and Pirates of the Caribbean powered by a collaborative rearrangement of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” in boisterous anthem form? I won’t say it’s ever collectively better than any of those films. Still, I admit Jungle Cruise plastered a grin across my face throughout its admittedly lengthy but never overburdened duration. It’s a full-steam, fun-filled, crowd-pleasing exploratory romp.
Dwayne Johnson stars as the musclebound Frank Wolff, a tour guide with many debts and an underperforming cruise venture. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) arrive in Frank’s South American port searching for a skipper, so the trio strikes a deal. An arrowhead artifact in Lily’s possession should lead to a legendary tree that could possess the key to eternal life, which attracts Nazi scum Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons). Frank’s vessel rushes downriver toward their destination away from Joachim’s submarine, hoping to find the “Tears Of The Moon” and not the cursed souls of missing Conquistadors led by Aguirre (Edgar Ramírez).
In a word, Jungle Cruise is delightful. A throwback to a bygone era of studio gallantry that’s a rip-roaring adventure with a beaming heart and skip in its step (to the headbanger’s ball). I thought a ton about Jumanji (Johnson’s update) as Lily and Frank skedaddle through a crowded marketplace or Indiana Jones when Lily evades misogynist expedition clubbers in their collection room while gliding on bookshelf ladders. Joachim’s U-boat instigates explosive chases as torpedoes miss Frank’s modest cruiser by a monkey’s hair while the inclusion of Aguirre’s supernatural crew brings forth creatures that rival those crustacean or hammerhead hybrids from Davy Jones’ locker. Collet-Serra (alongside his storytelling team) charts an enthralling course that’s packed with wacky comedy and hair-raising encounters under sweltering temperate conditions, always assuring the audience’s enjoyment shapes his prime directive.
It helps that everyone involved is having an absolute blast, never more telling than Johnson and Emily Blunt’s charisma. Frank looks nothing like the out-of-college Disney workers who’d typically crack puns aboard whichever park’s original ride, but as a puncher of Nazis and petter of jaguars? Johnson is a ruggedly heroic charisma-bomb who steers Jungle Cruise. Lily’s schtick sticks it to outdated ideologies against women being teachers, adventurers, or clan leaders, which Blunt flaunts. Yet, she’s defined much deeper than the trousers she wears—Blunt’s fierceness and tenacity earn many a holler from those backing her inclusion. As partners? Their cheeky banter is sweeter than Cinnabons. As fighters? Their tradeoffs are goofily thrilling. As romantic marks? There’s never a schmear of schmaltz worth guffaws. I applaud these two in any of the areas above.
Reaching further, Jack Whitehall fills the role of comedic release in his linen suits and dinner jackets as a picture of affluent vanity stuck in a ruffian’s world. Even better, Disney gets one step closer to saying the word “gay” on screen—I’ll take MacGregor’s confession to Frank that Lily was the only family member not to shame his forbidden desires without outright defining a same-sex love. Whitehall’s comedy stems from his aristocratic misplacement and it is a hoot, but let’s be honest, this is Jesse Plemons’ world—we’re just living in it with privilege. Plemons’ thicker-than-gruel German accent plays an over-the-top Nazi stereotype that’s the definition of mustache-twirly, puffing his chest in firetruck-red commander’s outfits while insisting his violence be accompanied by homeland propaganda songs. Cue the hunt for a magical petal on a hidden tree that hopefully exists, or the jungle will devour everyone whole.
There’s imagination bursting from countless riverboat scenes, especially when Aguirre’s companions arrive. They’re tethered to the river by a mystical spell that’s transformed them into elemental superbeings like sloshy Mud Man, viney Tree Guy, and gooey Honey Boy—all rendering fantastic designs, albeit digital. Screenwriters blend in callbacks to Disney’s iconic ride, whether that’s Frank’s remarkably dad-tastic puns or killer hippo fakeouts or backside water views. Still, Jungle Cruise is always about building a franchise worthy of revisitation. Tribal communities, underwater ruins, and cartography puzzles unlock that fresh new property that does what other hopeful franchise starters fail to comprehend—focus on a singular story, then approach sequels. Jungle Cruise is an exotic dish that fills you up and then some, leaving patrons ready for another bite once all that digestion settles your stomach (metaphor still intact).
I had an unexpected ball with Jaume Collet-Serra’s Jungle Cruise, and I’d hop right back in line given a chance. It’s proprietarily safeguarded at times and yet still manages to navigate around these mega-buster protectors to clear a path toward memorable movie night entertainment. Audiences will clamor for more team-ups between Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt because there’s something so magnetic about their smiles and showmanship when in sync. Collet-Serra respects the beastly dangers that swim, prowl, and hunt, while also treating the native inhabitants far better than Disney’s archaic ride designs—the jungle comes alive while an epic quest unfolds, as an introduction to a new intellectual property that damn-well deserves at least one more sequel.