By Jana Monji, AsAmNews Arts & Culture Reporter
Jungle Cruise is a charming, low-key family adventure film that strives and mostly succeeds in making a politically correct journey down the Amazon. Two-fer Dwayne Johnson brings in diversity as both Black and Pacific Islander while his co-star, Emily Blunt, brings a feisty feminist Brit twist.
The film Jungle Cruise begins in 1916, two years into World War I (The United States wouldn’t enter the war until 1917, the year that Russia withdrew).
MacGregor Houghton (Jack Whitehall) is making a presentation at a stuffy male-only scientific society in hopes of gaining financial and scientific community support. MacGregor is the assistant and reluctant supporter of his botanist sister, Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt). Lily has infiltrated members-only sections of the organization in search of items that will help her quest for the Tree of Life. It’s here that Lily first meets a shifty German nobleman, Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons). She then drags her brother (who in turn drags an enormous amount of luggage), to the Amazon river, ending up in a port controlled by Nilo Nemolato (Paul Giamatti).
Not far up the Amazon, is the steamboat captain of the rickety La Quila, Frank “Skipper” Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), who entertains less than intrepid passengers in a staged day trip into the Amazon complete with pseudo threats by natives and wild animals and a view of the Eighth Wonder of the World–the backside of water. “Of all the jungle cruises you can take in the Amazon, this one is undoubtedly the cheapest, but also the most thrilling.” Frank owes money to Nilo and he needs to pay for a new engine in order to continue his business.
After an adventurous meet-cute, Frank, having absconded with his new unpaid for engine, takes Lily and MacGregor out on the Amazon. Lily soon discovers that Frank also has maps by the same cartographer, all giving hints of where to find the legendary Tree of Life, from which the Tears of the Moon petals are believed to have magical healing powers. Lily explains to Frank, “There is a legend, in the jungles of the Amazon, of a tree that heals all. It could change the world, but if it gets into the wrong hands, it could awaken a great evil. I believe that the legend is real.”
Frank warns Lily, “If you believe in legends, you should also believe in curses, too.”
Prince Joachim re-surfaces in the Amazon in a submarine and he joins forces with Aguirre (Édgar Ramírez). Lily might want the Tree of Life to help humanity, but Joachim wants it to improve his finances and help the German military cause.
The film Jungle Cruise is an innocuous fun journey with CGI stunts and fantastical threats that might help widen a child’s imagination or make them more afraid of bees and snakes. There’s a chummy romantic chemistry between Johnson and Blunt and Whitehall brings some levity thanks to the script by John Norville, Josh Goldstein, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. Humor is used to bypass possible points of political incorrectness.
Under Spanish American director Jaume Collet-Serra (Liam Neeson’s 2018 The Commuter and Blake Lively’s 2016 The Shallows), there are slow moments that could have been tightened up but this is a cruise. There has been some criticism against having a straight actor, Whitehall, play a gay character, but do we really want to limit gay actors to gay characters?
The humor here is gentle and there are groan-worthy corny “dad” jokes. Expect a happy ending and some scene-stealing from Plemons as the main villain.
Jungle Cruise had its world premiere on July 24, 2021 and opened on July 30 in theaters and on Disney+. In English and Spanish with English subtitles.
For a more extensive discussion about the historical context of the film, read the unabridged version of this review on Age of the Geek.
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