I forgot where I saw it but someone online referred to Jungle Cruise as Jumanji Cruise and I can’t unsee it. As a matter of fact, I was thinking the same thing earlier this year when I saw the commercials for the Disney adventure movie.
And why not? It’s apparent that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson seems to be the John Wayne of this generation. By that, I mean, he’s only being cast in a few limited genres that it’s no surprise the seem to overlap a little. He’s basically taken the Fast and Furious franchise from Vin Diesel. He was in the two recent Jumanji movies. His role in Race to Witch Mountain, another Disney flick, has led to a popular meme. There was that Journey to the Center of the Earth sequel where he replaced The Mummy Returns star Brendan Fraser. But yet, there is a little bit of The Mummy‘s tone here. And even his disaster movies like Rampage, Skyscraper and San Andreas all seem to fall into the same type of categories.
This is nothing critical of Johnson. He does command a good presence on screen. The camera loves him and he loves the camera. He also knows how to do these roles so well that it was probably a no-brainer for Disney to consider anyone but him. The movie itself is a casserole of all the old and new jungle and dessert adventure movies. It’s a combination of the Indiana Jones movies, Romancing the Stone, The African Queen, Congo, etc.
Set in 1916, Johnson plays the typical struggling to survive tourist boat skipper Frank Wolff, who is indebted to harbor master Nilo Nemolato (Paul Giamatti) at a popular spot along the Amazon in Brazil. As always, Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) mistakes him for Nilo and she hires him, then fires him when discovering the truth, but something happens showing her he’s really good at what he says, and she rehires him. They squabble back and forth in the typical fashion that Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner did.
With her brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) they start downriver. But there’s already a problem. Back in London, since she was a woman, Lily was unable to get access to an arrowhead artifact and a map to find the Tree of Life in the Amazon. So, she steals it. Now, they’re being tracked by Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), a German, who is also seeking the Tree.
Not to give much away, but there’s also Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez), a Spanish Conquistador who was seeking the Tree of Life in 1566 and was cursed by the tribe following a violent altercation after the tribe chief refused to reveal the location of the Tree. There’s supernatural elements, hints of the war in Europe known then as The Great War, but now as World War I, action-adventure scenes and the bickering between Frank and Lily to the point that you know eventually they’ll fall in love.
Since it is 2021, the movie does address some of the more outdated and somewhat racist aspects of past jungle adventure movies in an ode similar to the handling of the Indigenous Native Americans in Maverick. There’s also MacGregor, who is hinted at being gay, but doesn’t come out and say it. But it’s obvious. And there’s the sexism as Lily is confused for a secretary and questioned for wearing trousers.
People who might dismiss all this by being “woke” will probably not realize that previous jungle movies from decades ago had stronger roles for women as well. And not giving anything away, but there’s a little history to Frank that more or less necessitates Johnson playing the role.
At about two hours, you won’t find anything provocative. There’s no underlying meanings. It’s based on a Disney ride so you know there’s going to get obstacles and action sequences here and there. Mostly they work right, even though some of the CGI doesn’t come off as well as it should. Jaume Collet-Sera, who mostly has directed horror movies like House of Wax and Orphan and Liam Neeson thrillers like Non-Stop, Unknown and The Commuter, does a good job here giving us a family-style action movie.
I’m not surprised there’s already talks of a sequel even though so far, it’s only made just over $213 million at the box office and made over $30 million through the Disney-Plus Premier Access. This might be why Disney is greenlighting it. By now, they only doing these types of movies along with a few animated movies. More families can stay at home to watch them.
Why go new routes when you already know what the people want to see?