A Jungle Cruise has always has a whiff of the slightly exotic and yet the nearest we’ve ever got to getting sweaty as we tried to make our way through the overgrown bush was dating a French woman some years ago (‘You’re fired!’ – Ed). Here though the Jungle Cruise is based on one of Disney’s World’s most popular rides and now we have the film of the ride in much the same way as Pirates of the Caribbean was. With a prologue that set 400 hundred tears previously that sees a Spanish explorer Aguirre on a quest for the mysterious Tears of the Moon, not some overpriced perfume but petals from a rare tree deep in the jungle with life saving abilities. But it all ends tragically with Aguirre consumed by the jungle itself.
Leap forward to London 1916 and we have Macgregor Houghton (Jack Whitehall) and his sister Lily (Emily Blunt) trying to gain membership to a stuffy association of scientists. But at the same time Lily is trying to get hold of an ancient arrowhead which is the key to discovering the location of the pharmaceutical tree of wonder deep in the South American jungle. But she’s not the only one with wickedly wily Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) wanting it too with a less than altruistic reason – to make his German army invincible. This is the era of the First World War and the arrow head is the equivalent of the Staff of Life in Raiders of the Last Ark and it’s that film which Jungle Cruise uses as its template with Lily as part Indiana, part Marion.
Needing a boat to get her into the Jungle she barters with Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) an in debt skipper running cruises for rich tourists in a similar way to the Disney theme park ride and the screenwriters have even gone as far as lifting the scripted puns that the actors on that theme park ride trot out and given them to Johnson. Initially reluctant to take a woman who wears trousers (or pants – this is an American financed film after all) the boardline bankrupt skipper agrees , and he’s not without his own reasons too and along with her effete brother he takes them up river to find the fabled tree whilst in pursuit is Prince Joachim in his ornate First World War submarine.
Jungle Cruise ahs the stamp of Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark everywhere and that’s no bad thing. From the German baddie to the little touches such as the boat chugging along an animated map (the plane gliding over the map in ROTLA) director Jaume Collett-Serra uses them all…. and frankly why not? Because this is hugely entertaining with several satisfying set pieces most notably the submarine trying to machine gun and torpedo the cruise boat into oblivion. The cast are having a whale of a time with Johnson in kid friendly mode balancing action and laughs, Blunt as heroine ismore than capable of equalling if not besting her Captain as they banter and bicker calling each other Pants and Skippy throughout. Whitehall in an all white suit looking like the camp son of the man from del Monte is there as light relief and unusually it’s a Disney character that plays to a more inclusive audience with a scene that makes clear that he is gay without ever explicitly saying so and prompting possible awkward questions to parents. Along with this is Plemons who has always shined in the many supporting roles he has played in films such as diverse as Game Night to Judas and the Black Messiah and here he absolutely revels in his pantomime baddie role. And throw in a CGI leopard (though anyone with a dislike of snakes might grimace at parts of this) and there’s something for everyone
Though at over two hours Jungle Cruise is a little overlong this is immensely enjoyable in what is the summer’s best family film
Here’s the Jungle Cruise trailer…….