Disney’s Jungle Cruise hits theaters this Friday, and it’s the next tentpole based on a Disney ride that the studio hopes may launch a franchise in the vein of Pirates of the Caribbean. Jaume Collet-Serra directs, and it’s easy to see why he was also tapped to direct the upcoming Dwayne Johnson-led Black Adam for DC; he and Johnson clearly have an easy working rapport.
In Jungle Cruise, Johnson plays Frank Wolff, a skipper of a jungle cruise down the Amazon. Constantly broke, Frank is a scoundrel constantly looking to swindle his customers and colleagues of out money and goods. A stroke of luck arrives in the form of Dr. Lily Houghton, played by Emily Blunt. Lily is a brilliant and intrepid botanist who arrives in Brazil with an ancient artifact that she believes will lead her to a mythical tree and its “Tears of the Moon” flowers that have the power to cure any disease. Lily drags along her younger brother, MacGregor, played by Jack Whitehall. MacGregor is a fastidious and fussy London aristocrat who wants to be anywhere but the jungle. But, as he later recounts to Frank, he’d follow Lily anywhere after she stood by him during a difficult time in his life that proves to be one of the more touching moments of the movie. With Frank in desperate need of money, Lily in desperate need of a skipper to pilot her down the river, and MacGregor in desperate need of a nap, Frank agrees to navigate the river to get them to the tree.
Unfortunately, Lily and MacGregor aren’t the only explorers out to find the tree. Their party is pursued by the unhinged Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), a German royal obsessed with finding the Tears of the Moon for himself. Making matters worse, he wakes up the Spanish conquistadors who previously tried to find the Tears and were cursed for it. Lily, Frank, and MacGregor must dodge crazy Germans, 400-year-old Spanish explorers, and a river that may or may not kill them if they don’t stay sharp.
So is Jungle Cruise the next great adventure movie? Is it set to be Disney’s newest family-friendly franchise? Read on for three reasons why it’s worth seeing Jungle Cruise when it hits theaters this weekend.
1. Dwayne Johnson & Emily Blunt Have Great Chemistry
While billed as a two-hander, Jack Whitehall is such a strong supporting character that Jungle Cruise is almost a three-hander. That said, it’s still clearly Johnson and Blunt’s movie to make or break. Opposites attract is a winning formula here, as the pair generates the odd couple energy that all great Hollywood buddy comedies have. Though Blunt’s British adventurer is slightly button-up, she brings a no-nonsense daring that reminds you of why she was so good in Edge of Tomorrow and why she was Marvel Studios’ original first choice for Black Widow. Johnson, meanwhile, has mostly stuck with family films and popcorn action flicks, but moments in Jungle Cruise make you wonder what he might do with a true drama.
Blunt and Johnson are clearly having such a blast as bickering adventure buddies Lily and Frank that it’s actually a bit of a shame when Jungle Cruise takes the inevitable turn into romance. If there’s to be a sequel–and we know that talks for Jungle Cruise 2 are already happening–Disney would be remiss to kill their prickly banter in favor of cute couple shenanigans. The pair is just that much fun to watch together.
2. It’s A Throwback Adventure Movie We Don’t Get Anymore
There used to be a time when the adventure rom-com was a steady subgenre of Hollywood tentpoles. Movies like Romancing the Stone and The Jewel of the Nile, the Indiana Jones movies, even The Mummy, romantic, comedic capers were a summertime staple. Outside of the occasional outlier like the National Treasure and Pirates of the Caribbean movies, however, they’ve fallen out of favor in the past few decades, shoved to the side by CGI extravaganzas and comic book blockbusters. And while that’s not a bad thing, there’s certainly been an appetite for big, fun romps that don’t take themselves too seriously or that require decades of IP knowledge to understand. Jungle Cruise is just such a throwback sort of movie. Despite the dangers that face them at seemingly every turn, Lily’s enthusiastic “We’re going on an adventure!” attitude infuses the whole movie, and while Frank and MacGregor temper her enthusiasm, it’s hard not to get caught up in Lily’s clear-eyed joy at exploring someplace new and untamed. While Jungle Cruise admittedly tries a little too hard to be the next PotC or Mummy at points, it nonetheless is delightful to just sit back and allow a movie to charm you without wondering about a sequel or whether or not you’re missing any backstory or Easter eggs that would make the experience fuller.
3. It Will Be The New Favorite Of Many Kids
Fully kid-friendly films largely come in animated form these days, but Disney is arguably the only studio whose house brand is still putting out live-action movies that kids can enjoy, too. The favorite movies of many a child growing up in the 80s and 90s were adventure movies. and Jungle Cruise may very well be the same for kids of this generation. Beyond the fun of Lily and Frank’s derring-do and MacGregor’s comedic fussiness, Plemons plays his deranged prince with a zany and cartoonish relish that is sure to strike a funny bone.
Is the plot a little nonsensical? Yes, of course. It’s a movie about a magical, mythical tree that can cure all wounds protected by an ancient curse. There is a trained, pet CGI leopard. There is the jungle version of Davy Jones and his crew from Pirates of the Caribbean, with vines instead of barnacles, bees instead of seaweed. Very little of it actually makes sense beyond the surface. But kids don’t care about nonsense; in fact, kids thrive on nonsense. And there’s a great dose of the best kind of nonsense in Jungle Cruise, the kind that brings young audiences joy. As far as bonding activities go, parents could do worse than rounding up their kiddos and taking them to see Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt swing from vines and fight bad guys.
Jungle Cruise is in theaters on Friday, July 30.