In search of a legend, a British scientist and her brother will head into an adventure unlike anything else with the help of a charismatic tour guide. Based on the Walt Disney theme park attraction, Jungle Cruise is an exhilarating ride with a whimsical story that embodies its namesake, alongside wonderful performances.
Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) dreams of finding the “Tree of Life”, supposedly hidden deep within a jungle. The tree is thought to possess healing powers, which Lily believes will forever change modern medicine. With her uptight brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) in toe, they venture far from London and hire boat captain “Skipper” Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to take them on their quest.
As their journey on the river gets underway, they’ll discover they aren’t the only ones in search of the powerful tree. Leaving them to fight their way through treacherous waters and unkind foes.
A classic boat attraction, not known for its thrills per se, being adapted for the big screen — sounds familiar. While Pirates of the Caribbean proved to be a wickedly successful franchise, Jungle Cruise certainly had the same tall order to fill. Luckily it captures that same magic and adventurous pulse, almost like a Pirates meets The Mummy (1999) hybrid.
The film does a wonderful job of capturing the essence of the original ride, in various ways. Most apparent are the cheesy puns and jokes you hear from the skippers, which makes for an amazing running joke in the film. More cleverly is how they included the aspect of the animatronics, in a very early 20th century kind of way.
While there are pieces to pull from the ride, a lot still needed to be developed for the narrative of a feature film. There’s a strong mythos that fuels our characters’ journey and it takes some great twists and turns throughout. It has spectacular action sequences that you expect from a great fantasy adventure flick, which amps up the thrills.
But Jungle Cruise doesn’t only focus on epic fights and intense stunts, it develops rich characters who bring real heart to the story. Blunt and Johnson are both so charming and have fantastic chemistry with one another. There’s an added cleverness to Blunt’s character as well that I found so entertaining, and I enjoyed the dynamic with her and Whitehall’s character.
The film has some fantastic writing, with a nice balance between humor, action, and emotion. Its comedy adds some nice cheeky moments, which felt reminiscent of 90s and 00s action-adventure films.
Though I will say my only complaint is that the CGI also feels very early 2000s. For a $200M budget, the design in some areas was quite off, especially for Édgar Ramírez‘s antagonist character. It’s certainly not up to par with the incredible Davy Jones look in Dead Man’s Chest and it could be distracting in some moments.
In the end, Jungle Cruise very much succeeds in bringing the ride to the big screen, while giving us a great story on top. You can feel the enjoyment from the film and it certainly will leave you wanting to experience it again.
Jungle Cruise arrives in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 30th