Jungle Cruise Is a Nostalgia Trip Through Blockbusters Past

Jaume Collett-Serras Jungle Cruise is a summer blockbuster that's close to perfect. It stands on the shoulders giants, which is why it has reached such highs. The film, which is based on the Disney ride, stars Dwayne the Rock Johnson, Emily Blunt and The African Queen. It also features the music of Dwayne the Rock Johnson. It doesn't reach higher than that, but the familiar, joy-inducing view from these predecessors is easy to appreciate.AdvertisementMacGuffin's story is about the Tears of the Moon. These are the Amazonian petals that can heal any illness. Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz roles, or should it be Humphrey Bogart? Katharine Hepburn?) Karen Allen and Harrison Ford? Lily Houghton, a doctor who is known for her prowess in wearing pants and her professional knowledge puts her at odds with patriarchal systems from World War I. Frank Wolff (Johnson), an experienced riverboat captain who enjoys making dad jokes and playing small cons on those around him. MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), Lily's brother, is also along. He prefers a quiet life and finds the idea of exploring the Amazon terrifying. They are not the only ones seeking this holy grail. Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), a German aristocrat seeks the petals to help him achieve his goal of (what else?). Aguirre (dgar Ramirez), a leader of the undead conquistadors, has been recruited to assist him.AdvertisementAdvertisementAdvertisementAlthough Frank and Lily start out at odds, it is not surprising that Frank initially treats her as his latest mark. But soon the friction between them begins to spark. There are a few sputters. Blunt and Johnson share an endearing relationship, but perhaps because this is a Disney movie, they never achieve the same heat as Weisz or Fraser. Instead, they remain in besties territory, which pivots to passion that's mostly told, rather than shown. Johnson is a strange hunk. His characters in movies such as the Jumanji franchise have relied on his ability to charm and sex appeal rather than his dictionary definition. Even though the main goal of these movies is not romance, it doesn't stop them from having a lot of fun.AdvertisementJungle Cruise, like many movies that have multiple villains struggles to find room for all its bad guys. The conquistador subplot, though it leads to a truly unforeseeable twist (and may summon pleasant reminders of Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog), seems to exist solely to provide the movie with a set of supernatural foes, the type who can conjure the magical powers of computer-driven effects, and though their respective traitszombie Aguirre is made out of snakes, while one of his lieutenants is composed of honeybeesare imaginative, in a Davy Jones, face-full-of-tentacles kind of way (though the CGI doesnt hold up quite as well), Plemons requires no such trickery to steal the show. Joachim is delightful, and could easily have been pulled from Christoph Waltzs collection of mustache-twirling, thickly accented krauts. Paul Giamatti plays an Italian proprietor with a golden tooth and a talking paragon, but he's been relegated to the fringes of movies.Advertisement[Read: Which Theme Park Attractions Should Disney Next Adapt After Jungle Cruise?]A little more difficult is the film's attempt to reckon with colonialism inherent to its premise. This was reflected in recent changes to the actual ride that removed negative depictions about indigenous peoples. The film is only halfway there, which is quite confusing. While there are some jokes about cannibals that white tourists fear are native people hired to perform an act, in the same scene where it is revealed that Lily & MacGregor have fallen for racist stereotypes and are being exposed, the script switches to making jokes about native people's inept grasp of English. This is not the kind of cake the movie can eat.AdvertisementThe more one thinks about Jungle Cruise the less it holds up. But moment to moment there is always something happening. Collet-Serra has a knack of compelling, clearly telegraphed actions. It doesn't take itself too seriously. There is a whole scene where Plemons talks to a group bees. They dance in the air and exchange information. This scene is a great example of how the film takes its humor seriously. It might not bring back previously undiscovered treasures but what it does find is perfect for a big bowl of popcorn and a cold drink.