What do you get when you smash together elements of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The African Queen, Pirates of the Caribbean, and, strangely, a little bit of Maverick? And it stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt? Well, the good news is you get about an hour of a movie that could be deemed “entertaining” or “enjoyable.” The bad news is, after that first hour (and like so many movies inexplicably do today), someone decided, “Look, hear me out, what if about halfway through we make this movie super convoluted? Like to the point it would be hard to explain the plot to anyone?” And then someone else decided, “Yes, that’s exactly what we should do.”
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (whose movies I like a lot; though this does not feel anything like a typical Jaume Collet-Serra movie), Jungle Cruise is especially maddening because for the first act of the movie it truly feels like they were on to something.
Set in 1916, Emily Blunt plays Dr. Lily Houghton, a scientist who, in London, steals a mysterious arrowhead that will direct her to a fabled healing tree in Brazil. Even this scene lifts directly from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, as Lily times the noise she makes breaking into a crate with that of a tool being used by the museum curator. And you know what? Fine! If you’re going to lift from other movies, that’s not a bad one to lift from. Soon after, Lily finds herself hanging onto a ladder for dear life as Jesse Plemons’s German Prince Joachim screeches at her to toss him the artifact and he will help her, straight out of the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Again, fine. (Also, Plemons is having the time of his life in this movie.)
Lily and her brother, McGregor (Jack Whitehall), arrive in Brazil and hire a rapscallion of a steamboat captain, Captain Frank Wolff (Johnson) to guide them to the area where the magic healing tree might be located. All the while being chased by Plemons’s dastardly Prince Joachim, who has a submarine. So as of this moment, we’ve got: Two charming leads, Johnson and Blunt. Some comedic relief from Jack Whitehall. And Jesse Plemons hilariously overacting as the villain. All in a race to be the first to get to a tree with magical healing powers. You know what, now we’re talkin’, how could this go south?
For reasons I will never understand, in 2021, what I have just described is, somehow, just not enough plot for a movie anymore. So, now, on top of all that we have the ugly CGI ghosts of 400-year-old conquistadors thrown in here, too. And the more time we spend with these ugly CGI ghosts, the worse the movie gets, to the point I just didn’t care anymore because it became all so stupid. And then on top of that we then have to learn about Captain Frank Wolff’s connection to these 400-year-old conquistadors. (I will not give that detail away, but after I saw this movie I told someone this particular plot point and they, still, think I am making this up.)
What’s maddening about Jungle Cruise is there’s a fun summer movie in here. I know this because, for the first hour or so, I was watching it. It was all set up. Some interesting characters are established (now, I wouldn’t go as far to say Johnson and Blunt have “chemistry” with each other, but I did believe two actual movie stars who can carry a movie were on screen) and the rules were in place of what these characters want to accomplish. And then they sunk it with utter nonsense. Look, I get this is a movie based on an amusement park ride (that I have never been on and know absolutely nothing about), but I was actually looking pretty forward to an “original” summer action movie. And for the first hour I kept thinking, by golly, they might have just pulled this off. And then, of course, it sunk into a CGI mess of a convoluted movie. My guess is that there was some sort of decree that every single aspect of the ride just had to also be included in the movie, which was a big mistake. I honestly don’t understand why almost every big-budget studio movie these days, the answer is, “More plot! This movie needs more plot!”
Honestly, my low tolerance for Jungle Cruise is because they had all the ingredients. This really could have been pretty good! It was like a runner with a big lead. All the runner has to do is not fall. Just finish the race and you’ll win. Anyway, the runner fell, which makes it much harder to watch than someone who was at the back of the pack the whole time.
‘Jungle Cruise’ opens on July 30th in theaters and via Disney+. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.