Another beloved Disney ride has been turned into a movie, this time one I’ve even heard about. Jungle Cruise was supposed to be released earlier, but pandemic. Instead of a drunken, swashbuckling, queer reading pirate, we have the most unlikely pair of Hollywood actors ever on an Amazon cruise. I saw this on the first weekend because I love Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, and I was dead curious how they would be together. The chemistry between the two turned out to be the best part of the movie, and I have absolutely no complaint with them. After watching ten bajillion trailers for upcoming movies, we got around to the main feature.
Set in 1916, the absolute zenith of The Great War, or what you might call World War I, a swashbuckling woman is in desperate search for the Tears of Legend, a flower that can cure any ailment. Considering an entire generation of military aged men in England was being wiped out at the time, who can blame her. She steals the film’s McGuffin, an ancient arrowhead artifact from the Amazon region, and drags her brother off on an adventure to the new world. He is seriously reluctant, but loves her more than anything. When they arrive, they’re thrown in with a down on his luck kitchy tour guide and ginormous punster rather than the luxury cruise they had expected. Their adversaries are a persistent German U-Boat captain and a gang of Conquistadors who’ve been cursed to stay close to the river for hundreds of years.
As I mentioned, Johnson and Blunt were terrific together, which kind of blew my mind a little. All the actors were at the very least good, though the cgi leopard was a little too obviously digital. Kids won’t know the difference. The 3D reminded me of The Terminator 3D video at Disneyworld twenty years ago, with some of the same tricks used, and a certain unevenness to the effect. At times I enjoyed the reactions of the other movie goers as much as the 3D itself, but there were only a couple of those moments.
Because it’s Disney and stars Dwayne Johnson, you would expect to see a lot of big action sequences, and there are several very large set pieces. Emily Blunt, who can do anything, is not a shrinking violent by any means. My biggest beef with these sequences is that they weren’t all needed to further the plot. Just after that is my problem with them going on too long. As well, the movie as a whole went on too long, and could have been trimmed by about a half hour I think. Also because it’s Disney, there is a lot of humor, especially of the pun variety. I love puns, so that was fine with me, and Johnson has great comedic timing. Again, because it’s Disney, there is a really loaded sexual joke, this time more obvious than their usual subliminals, coinciding with yet another “first” gay character. Most people won’t get that he’s gay, but if you know the arcane language of queerness it’s obvious. I was unhappy with his character arc of being less than when comfortably queenly, and only a “real man” when reduced to filth and violence. Maybe in another 90 years they can get it right.
There were some problems with the plot, like how in the world did the German Captain know where the conquistadors are, and how does a U-Boat navigate up the river so far while submerged. Who knows if that’s even feasible. I couldn’t google an answer but it seems really unlikely to me. How many times do we have to watch the convenient bad guy Nazis (okay, pre-Nazi) occult hunters? I know one of the big influences of the film is Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it’s been nearly 40 years of that trope. I thought the Conquistadors were plenty enough bad buys. Speaking of tropes, the middle-of-the-movie falling out between the lovestruck leads didn’t work, mostly because Johnson and Blunt are too obviously having a blast working together.
My last two big complaints are that there is too much horror imagery for small children, and the music is remarkably unremarkable for a Disney film.
The humor is right on target, and the sex joke drew a huge laugh from me and the guy in front of me. The art direction and costuming are fantastic, and there is an animated sequence with a map that is super clever. I spent most of the film having a good time, smiling and laughing behind my mask, until I started squirming about the 2+ hour mark. It wasn’t until I had some time to think about it that the problems became obvious to me. Your Mileage May Vary, and if you don’t mind maybe a bit of buyer’s remorse, you will enjoy the film as much as I did. This is by no means a classic Disney film, but there’s a very good chance you’ll like it more than I ultimately did.