A strange academic academician and his very crooked, party-loving brother connect the country with a sardonic salt guy to use an ancient map to find something about life beyond death. That’s Stephen Sommers ’1999 headline Mummy, and it is the base map of Jaume Collet-Serra 2021 J.unpack cruise, too. Mummy was one of the last great adventure movies before the superheroes embraced the genre, and Jungle Cruise desperately wants to take back this spark. Shockingly, it’s pretty effective at it.
It doesn’t always work. Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt don’t have the same chemistry as Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, and CGI is often unstable and cartoonish in an unpleasant way. But adventure movies are meant to be escapist fun and Jungle Cruise nail that part perfectly. Founded in 1916, Blunt plays Lily Houghton, an explorer and researcher who follows in her father’s footsteps and hunts a magic flower from the Amazon that can change medicine (and show a completely sexist explorer society). Jack Whitehall is his brother, MacGregor, who would rather enjoy cool gin and tonic in the shade than travel to the Amazon, but do it for his sister. Dwayne Johnson is Frank Wolff, their enduring guide, telling his journey by boat with the same pun-laden jibs as a cast member of Disney’s Jungle Cruise theme park. They travel down the Amazon towards all the things you expect them to encounter: dangerous animals, piranhas, ghosts, German submarines, and even a mysterious tribe (add a little more).
Except for some silly translations I don’t want to ruin, it’s a very numbers adventure movie Mummy, Indiana Jones and King Solomon mined. There is even a breeze from other movies like African queen and yes, really, Aguirre, the wrath of God. They fight monsters made of honeycomb and mud and try to avoid the delightfully weird German noble presented by the trustworthy bad guy Jessie Plemons, and all the time it feels like you’re watching something made in the lab To take a spark Mummy was except that everyone working in the lab made a few healthy lines of cocaine at the time of writing.
This film is hyperkinetic. Introducing Blunt’s character involves a fierce battle in the library and his first meeting with Johnson’s guide is a jungle cat and explosion. There’s no danger in their characters that they regularly jump into, but just when you think they’re too superhero, Blunt makes grain sacks with “oomph” or Johnson definitely misses landing as he swings through the trees on a rope. While CGI under the stars can be distracting, Johnson and Blunt are there to get things back on track with all their remarkable charm.
And their chemistry, while it may not be as blistering as some other romantic leaders, has a nice worn element in it. Like Humphry Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in Queen of Africa, they play older characters who are looking for a friend as much as a romantic partner. They visit the crowds as often as they look when they float lazily along the river between action pieces. Jack Whitehall’s MacGregor knows when to avoid letting the romantic embers burn, and when to arrive to get the plot back on track or provide a little lightness. Although she gets her own heart into her heart with Frank Wolff, where she admits she loves to travel with her sister and avoids home because she is gay and never plans to get married.
Yes, we finally got a gay man saying they’re gay in a live-action Disney movie. No gay in retrospect, no gay in the background, no gay and no dead. MacGregor is a character that is often encoded as a queer and in Jungle Cruise They just let him come right out and say it – even though I personally, if I walk through the jungle in 1916 in Brazil, I just wouldn’t go on a trip with the people I just met. It’s a moment that feels like Disney is checking something on the checklist, especially when MacGregor’s sexuality has no bearing on the plot. After Disney has kept the characters in the closet for decades or kept their sexuality purely subtextual, it’s nice to just get the character out and make it clear. Hopefully the next queer character doesn’t have to be so serious as they get out of the closet and their sexuality can be revealed in a more natural way.
Still, while the film wants to give us a gay man and a “modern” heroine who drives a plot (and a boat and more than one scene), there’s one area, Jungle Cruise feels painfully outdated. In that way, it treats its environment and the indigenous peoples who live there. The theme park trip on which the film is loosely based was known for being terribly racist, and Disney remodeled it before the movie. One of the best known and also the most racist elements of the journey is a character named Trader Sam who holds shrunken heads high. In the film, merchant Samia is played by Mexican actress Veronica Falcón and she bankers people’s prejudices about her and her tribe to get what she really wants. It’s a generous attempt to imagine a less racist version of the character, but it doesn’t always sit right.
The province and its people are still treated as “exotic” and “unknown.” They are fewer people, more plot points to navigate. Some other colonial elements that are an integral part of the adventure film Jungle Cruise indicated on the forehead. There is a lot characters looking to dig the Amazon for immortality, and the film strongly condemns this behavior. As in Whitehall’s character, the filmmakers want to do the right thing about the racist elements that come from the “lost world” adventure story. But instead of earning the gold star the best, we can reward them with a yellow that says “you tried”.
It’s trying to make the movie work. The whole movie is real serious, going beyond some of its Disney elements. It can be a copy and it can be misleading, however Jungle Cruise is also just fun. Like Mummy before that, there are no mistakes – but it knows how to have fun.
Jungle Cruise will be in theaters and at Disney + Premiere Access beginning July 30th.