I'm pretty pumped for these kinds of adventure matinees. Treasure hunts, wild choreography, flirty one liners and knuckle sandwiches have been some of the most iconic tropes of films of my childhood, films led by franchises like Indiana Jones and Tintin in particular. In other words, it was hard not to fall victim to nostalgia for Disney's latest jungle adventure, where a giant riverboat captain (Dwayne Johnson) and a brave explorer (Emily Blunt) pack their bags to find the mythical Tree of Life before a German prince gets there first.
After a tough character introduction, Jungle Cruise finally kicks off with its Amazon setting. James Newton Howard delivers a John Williams-esque magical soundtrack, which makes for an accurate companion to Blunt and Johnson's dangerous escapades. Here, the law of the jungle applies; eat or be eaten, especially between the main characters who cannot trust each other fully. Jungle Cruise can best be described as Indiana Jones crossed with Pirates of the Carribean, in terms of its slightly more adult humor and high death toll, but not quite as daring as melting Nazi faces off, as in Spielberg's iconic series. Anyone who liked the family-friendly Jumanji reboot with Johnson at the helm will probably feel at home with this one.
Blunt is playful and delightful as trouser-wearing adventurer, who has been ignored by patriarchal society, while Johnson brings out his usual charm as an extremely cynical captain who is more than happy to hatch deliberately lousy jokes. However, it is the interaction between these that carries the film all the way, where the sexual tension between Johnson and Blunt is fun to follow and the dialogues between the pair are wonderfully witty and quick. Jesse Plemon's German aristocrat is also wonderfully naughty and Jack Whitehall's timid brother is a good complement to the film's more hard-boiled characters.
The Pirates influence is once again brought to life when zombie conquistadors become one of many jungle threats, which makes the story quickly plummet. In fact, the other half of the film becomes less engaging as the mumbo jumbo magic becomes more commonplace. In the same vein, I can also think that a certain twist sweeps away a much-needed conflict between the main characters under the rug. The film really peaked when keeping things as simple as possible, and probably would've benefited from being 20-30 minutes shorter than it is. Many digital effects are also unexpectedly ugly for a Disney-caliber movie. Especially the leopard, and the last act are both surprisingly goofy and flat, where the ending also lacks emotional weight when the filmmakers mostly take the easy way out.
In the end, though, I had unexpected fun with Jaume Collet-Serra's adventure romance. It is an easy-going and extremely inoffensive tropical calabash that may be predictable, quirky and a little overloaded with its other half, but which also manages to entertain in its clear homage to the genre. After a series of flat Marvel experiences, it feels like Disney should put more emphasis on this kind of movie adventure instead and that can definitely liven up rainier days if you know what to expect.
Jungle Cruise can now be seen in cinemas and is also available on Disney + via its Premier Access platform.