Following the box office success of theme park ride adaptation The Pirates of the Caribbean, which has grossed more than $4.5 billion worldwide across the five part franchise, Disney is turning to another of their popular attractions in the hopes of another successful Summer blockbuster. Inspired by 1951 adventure flick The African Queen and Walt Disney Picture’s True-Life Adventures documentary series, the river boat attraction is one of the theme parks oldest rides, opening in Disneyland back in June 1955. The experience, which is packed full of animatronic animals, exotic locations and the skipper’s famously amusing puns, has cemented itself as one of Disney’s most quintessential rides. So with Jumanji’s action hero Dwayne Johnson and Mary Poppins’ Emily Blunt on board, can this adaptation sail to the #1 box office spot?
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Black Adam) Jungle Cruise centres on scientist and adventurer Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) and wise cracking riverboat skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), on a perilous adventure to find an ancient and legendary tree that holds the power to heal. However, they’re not the only interested party searching for the relic in the Amazon, as German military man Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) is also leading an expedition to claim the mythical tree.
Jungle Cruise really is an absolute blast from start to finish, perfectly capturing the spirit of action-adventures old and new alike. With brilliantly comedic set pieces, visual gags and fun references to the theme park ride (the central trio all excel when it comes to the puns), this is such an entertaining and exciting pulpy romp for all ages. Along with the witty script and big set pieces, there’s a surprisingly wonderful heart and charm to the narrative. For long time adventure fans, this really is the throwback blockbuster we’ve been waiting for, with plenty of nods and homages to greats such as Romancing the Stone, The Mummy and Indiana Jones. While it does stray into familiar territory with some predictable genre elements, there’s definitely a couple of thrilling twists and turns along the way.
With Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt at the helm, you know you’re in safe hands. The duo are clearly having the time of their lives in the roles, sharing a brilliantly comedic dynamic which instantly wins you over. After proving her physicality in Edge of Tomorrow and A Quiet Place 1 & 2, Blunt cements her action status as the eccentric and adventurous scientist, fully embracing the adventure sequences and fight scenes. I adore her character’s penchant for defying social conventions (hence the “pants” nickname) along with seeking the tree to help with scientific advancements. Her bold and courageous spirit, along with the nickname she coins for him, initially irritates Dwayne’s Frank “Skippy” Wolff. However the bickering pair make for a completely charming lead duo – evoking Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner’s dynamic in Romancing the Stone. Johnson continues to be one of the best modern action heroes – he’s such a charismatic leading man who somehow gets away with the cheesiest puns!
The supporting cast are equally as talented – Whitehall’s MacGregor Houghton has a really heartfelt backstory and sweet relationship with his sister, with the comedian bringing a surprisingly emotional depth to the role. While the casting may be somewhat controversial, Whitehall shares a touching scene with Johnson’s Wolff as he discusses how society has shunned him for who he loves. However, it’s Jesse Plemons who absolutely steals the show as the hilarious villain Prince Joachim – dialling his somewhat creepy role in Game Night up to 11. His character is a real riot and like the rest of the cast, he clearly had a whole lot of fun filming this. However, Edgar Ramírez and Paul Giamatti are a little underused in their roles.
Along with the brilliant performances and fun story, Collet-Serra excels in directing big-scale action sequences and fight scenes, including brawls, prop-based scenes (with a particular nod to the ladder scene in The Mummy) and Tomb Raider type puzzles and booby traps, which signals a positive future for their next collaboration in DC’s Black Adam. The director’s horror roots also shine through, with a surprisingly dark flashback scored to a fantastic orchestral arrangement by James Newton Howard and Metallica of hit “Nothing Else Matters”. There’s also a number of impressive creature designs and VFX (from numerous studios including Weta Digital and ILM) reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean. The breezy pacing and nostalgia driven trip makes for easy watching with a runtime which sails by, with plenty of thrilling action elements and brilliant nods to the ride (those costumes!) for fans of the Disney theme parks (along with a cheeky Moana reference).
An action-packed adventure full of heart, Jungle Cruise is the perfect Summer blockbuster for the whole family. All aboard for the best action-adventure flick in years!