As the last week has seen Disney’s model of simultaneous cinema and streaming releases blow up in their face in spectacular, embarrassing fashion, here comes Jungle Cruise to prove the scheme’s value. Here is an ostensible summer blockbuster that is actually far better suited to being background noise in your living room than a cinema trip, busy enough that something fun-ish is happening every time you look up from your phone but nowhere near good enough to actually pay attention to from start to finish.
Taking a leaf out of Pirates of the Caribbean’s book, Jungle Cruise adapts and expands a Disneyland theme park ride into a feature-length adventure. We’re in Brazil in 1916 as steamboat captain Frank (Dwayne Johnson) ferries British explorer Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her foppish brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) down the Amazon to find a tree with mystical healing properties. Also in pursuit is Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), a son of the Kaiser who wants the tree to help win World War 1, and immortal, cursed conquistador Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez), who really brings the POTC vibes.
Jungle Cruise wears its influences on its sleeves, from its aforementioned aping of Gore Verbinski’s trilogy to its Raiders-esque race against the Germans, while Emily Blunt does her best impression of Rachel Weisz in The Mummy, but none of these comparisons flatter Jaume Collet-Serra’s film. The script is mostly clunky, the jokes getting about as much of a reaction as the dull exposition, while an overreliance on CG environments robs it of the vital tactility that makes an adventure movie genuinely thrilling and the score is instantly forgettable. There’s nothing close to ‘He’s A Pirate’ or ‘The Raiders’ March’ on this soundtrack, the music instead content to burble away in the background behind a muddy sound mix.
The leads also prove a problem. Blunt is clearly slumming it with this material, and though she and Johnson can spark up some decent friendly banter, their complete lack of real chemistry means the romance side of the plot falls flat right out of the gates. Plemons is having a lot of fun as Joachim, though, giving an absurdly broad performance that actually feels of a piece with the silliness of the world around him, instead of the stilted earnestness found everywhere else.
Things only really take off when the conquistadors get involved, and though their monstrous designs are clearly ported over from the various villainous crews of the POTC-verse, their tortured grotesquery wakes the film up, making it easier to forgive a truly ludicrous plot twist involving them. You end up wishing these darker, bolder turns were much more frequent, harkening back to the glory days of a rare 21st Century blockbuster franchise that didn’t feel totally made-by-committee.
There really isn’t any reason to pay the additional Disney+ fee for Jungle Cruise if you already own any POTC or Indiana Jones films, and even if you don’t, I’m sure they’re cheaper than the 20-odd quid being asked here. If you’ve exhausted all your other summer watching, then this is a mostly inoffensive diversion (though its attempts to subvert the ‘savage native’ trope teeter on the edge of uncomfortable), but one that you’ll forget almost the instant the credits roll.