‘Jungle Cruise’ steady journey downstream

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Walt Disney Studios is no stranger to producing films based on their theme parks. Perhaps none more successful than the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. In 2021, Disney is looking to add more action and adventure, this time in the form of “Jungle Cruise” on the Amazon River.

Set in 1916 and two years into World War I, we meet a fearless and determined Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt). Lily is vastly ahead of her time, and one of the more remarkable minds in the field of botany. Given the time period, she does not get the respect she deserves compared to her male colleagues.

What’s Lily’s mission? To travel deep into the treacherous Amazon River to locate a magical tree known as the Tears of Moon. As it turns out, a single petal from this magical tree can cure all illnesses. 

Lily traveling down the Amazon River is problematic on two fronts: A. She doesn’t own a boat. B. She can’t swim. That’s where Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) comes into the picture.

Frank is a fast-talking wise-guy who can talk his way out of pretty much everything. A real “can’t trust you as far as I can throw you” kind of guy. While Lily and her loyal travel partner and brother in MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) don’t trust the mysterious Frank whatsoever, Frank is a talented steamboat captain and can ultimately lead them to the Tears of Moon.

With the Tears of Moon being such a powerful destination, it’s not a shock that Lily, MacGregor and Frank aren’t the only ones in search of it on the Amazon. Their adversary is the menacing, yet strangely funny, Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who has grave plans to capture the Tears of Moon for himself and win the war for the Germans.

Lily, MacGregor and Frank have their work cut out for them. Not only must Lily and Frank deal with their contrasting personalities, but they must also battle nature, Prince Joachim and an army of zombie conquistadors (long story) in their hopes to reach the Tears of Moon in one piece.

The parallels between “Jungle Cruise,” “Indiana Jones” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” are so obvious and more often than not, completely embraced by the film. One could argue the comparisons to “Pirates of the Caribbean” are a bit too similar, particularly when the zombie conquistadors come into play, but “Jungle Cruise” does enough to separate itself. In large part, due to Blunt and Johnson.

Blunt shines (when does she not?) as the daring Lily, and Johnson brings his muscles to match his heart and charisma as the reluctantly likable Frank. The two actors feed off of each other well, even when the jokes don’t completely land and the plot borders on being unforgivingly corny.

Nature lovers will be in for a real treat here, as it’s quite the thrill when the boat embarks on the bumpy waters of the Amazon. The CGI does become a bit much at times, though, and the film would’ve been better suited to dazzle us with a better story instead of extravagant visuals. 

Despite the so-so plot and overbearing CGI, “Jungle Cruise” will keep you on your toes with some true surprises you didn’t see coming. As uneven as it gets at times, you know you’re in good hands and the film gets back on track with its charming two captains in Blunt and Johnson steering the boat.

Grade: B



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