The DNA of Disney’s Jungle Cruise, the Mouse House’s latest attempt at turning a popular theme park ride into a cinematic experience, is readily apparent from the film’s opening moments. It almost immediately casts its lot with the adventure films of old, throwing in a bit of The Mummy (Fraser, not Karloff) and, of course, a healthy dose of Pirates of the Caribbean in for good measure.
Naturally, this creates the kind of familiarity that breeds predictability but, then again, this is a Disney movie. There’s a brand to consider and, at nearly a century, it’s a brand that’s been tried and tested time and time again. Like most Disney films, live action or otherwise, Jungle Cruise exists within the safe space in which all Disney movies exist. No one is here to redesign any wheels.
And why should they? The Disney wheels work pretty well, thank you very much, and largely everyone knows what they’re doing. Leaning into this dynamic, Jungle Cruise strives to have as much fun as possible within the parameters its given. In that respect, the film largely succeeds.
Jungle Cruise, with its throwback adventure story and familiar narrative, is a weirdly delightful just-a-movie that never veers from its preordained path and makes the best use its pieces. Though the movie does veer into too long territory—it could have easily cut 20 minutes without sacrificing itself in the process—it does the job it set out to do and does so competently.
Following a brief prologue involving conquistadors and curses (as well as, inexplicably, a new arrangement of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters”) we’re thrust into the film’s present day, during World War I, where sibling pair Lily and MacGregor Houghton (Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall) are attempting to join an archaeological society in order to gain access to artifacts that Lily believes will direct them to a mystical healing power somewhere in the Amazon. Their application denied, Lily, who serves as our Indiana Jones, steals what she needs and high tails it to the jungle. Along the way, she makes enemies of Prince Joachim of Germany, who wants the power for the glory of himself and Germany. With the Germans on their tail, they hire local river cruise operator Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to guide them to their treasure.
Though more than a little bit paint-by-numbers in its approach, Blunt and Johnson bring charisma to spare to the movie, selling some of the more ridiculous twists and dialogue that writers Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa have thrown together. Johnson spends much of his screen time making the same kinds of laughably lame puns that Disney Land/World cast members make on the Jungle Cruise ride, but his deadpan delivery sells them in a way that makes them actually funny, in a groaning kind of way. Blunt, meanwhile, seems to revel in her chance to rethink the suave hero trope.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra is well aware the footsteps this movie follows and sticks to that path steadfastly. Any given scene is one that you might have already seen in any number of adventure movies that came before it, but Collet-Serra makes his pastiche into an homage. Most of the time, this works. Jungle Cruise does falter some when it decides to take too many cards from the Pirates deck, but ultimately the movie plays out as good ol’ fashioned dumb fun, nothing more.
Though it all adds up to an experience that’s largely predictable, Jungle Cruise manages to sell itself well enough to entertain for two hours. This won’t be a movie that wins any awards or stands the test of time, but it enjoys its status as a fun distraction and plays well enough to its strengths to forgive its flaws. I can’t imagine this will ever be anyone’s favorite movie, but never stops it, or us, from enjoying the time we have together.
Jungle Cruise is now playing in theaters and is available to rent on Disney+.