As a kid of the ’90s who loved going to Disneyland, never missed The Rock laying the Smackdown Thursday nights on WWE, and who was majorly obsessed with action adventures like The Mummy, this movie may have been made for me. Disney’s Jungle Cruise is a return to form for big movies with lots of heart, laughter, and a mighty dose of action-adventure that needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Emily Blunt stars as Dr. Lily Houghton, who definitely upgrades the action-adventure heroic lead from the likes of Indiana Jones and Evelyn from The Mummy, into a class all her own. Blunt balances playing a daring risk-taker, whose also a vulnerable romantic on a mission, opposite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who steps into a Humphrey Bogart swagger as Skipper Frank. The duo has insane classic rom-com chemistry with an action edge. I mean it’s The Rock and The Angel of Verdun so of course, count us all the way in!
The film follows Lily as she enlists Frank to guide her and her brother, McGregor (Jack Whitehall), downriver on his Jungle Cruise boat to help her find an ancient tree with flowers that possess unparalleled healing power, that could change the future of medicine. Their epic quest does dole out classic theme park jokes that whip by in the first act.
We do get an amazing classic skipper spiel from Frank, but as the story progresses Easter eggs do not become a crutch. It’s a great way to free up this Jungle Cruise to be its own story akin to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, if they so choose to continue these adventures. And it also sets up its captive audience to not anticipate the thrilling dark places director Jaume Collet-Serra goes to, as we follow our crew further down the river.
Dangers arise from the nefarious European Prince Joachim played by Jesse Plemons — in all his soon-to-be iconic, scene-stealing glory — as capable and cruel, with the perfect amount of creepy charm. Joachim chases Lily around the world to get to the tree in order to give power to evil forces set on world domination. He even enlists help from beyond in the form of a supernatural Spanish conquistador crew led Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez), a specter bent on revenge with a need to find the flower.
Aguirre’s dark past does touch upon violence against the Indigenous people of the Amazon, which was effective enough to see established in an initial flashback, but maybe too much (at least for this writer who is of indigenous descent) to see repeated when he returns. Especially considering their lack of active involvement in the eventual quest for the magical healing flower, which was theirs to begin with. Without giving too much away, it would have been awesome to see an iconic ride character who was re-imagined AMAZINGLY be given a moment to return to their home with a split of the “reward” for their people. Definitely, something I would be interested to see expanded upon in future movies!
Tons of ground was laid for future Jungle Cruise adventures. Johnson and Blunt are a team I would watch more movies of for years to come. Along with McGregor and other ensemble standouts who I would have liked to see more off, I cannot wait to see their stories unfold if the franchise takes off. And yes, I definitely wanted more connections to the Society of Explorers and Adventurers, but it remains to be seen if this film will at any point intersect with the eventual S.E.A show on Disney+.
Jungle Cruise hits the mark of the perfect summer blockbuster that’s powered by a stellar cast filled with heartfelt humor, high stakes, hints of horror, and a love for classic cinema. A fantastic journey adventure that needs to be seen in the theater with the whole family.