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Jungle Cruise is the latest Disney film based on a theme park attraction. Beloved by many for its laid-back nature and enjoyable sufferable puns, Jungle Cruise is an interesting choice for a film as it’s pretty plotless giving the screenwriters pretty much carte blanche with originating a story. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the film was delayed multiple times until finally being released in 2021. Is this a riverboat adventure or more of a beached ferryboat experience? Read on to find out!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
As the movie begins,
we’re soon taken to London, England in the early 20th century. MacGregor Houghton, played by Jack Whitehall, is giving a speech before the Royal Society about an expedition of conquistadors in South America about 360 years prior. They had gone in search of a tree which bloomed the Tears of the Moon flower, a flower with the ability to cure any and every illness. As the story goes, the conquistadors came upon a tribe with knowledge of the location of the tree. When the tribe refused to disclose the location to the conquistadors, they retaliated with force. They were then cursed by the tribal leader to become immortal and intertwined with the jungle, making it impossible for them to stray far from the Amazon River. An arrowhead from that expedition has recently been discovered and MacGregor seeks permission from the Royal Society to use it to find the location where the conquistadors went missing, and in effect, find the tree. The Royal Society declines, of course, deeming the conquistador’s curse as well as the all-healing tree to be mere legend and nothing more.
MacGregor isn’t requesting at his own behest though; rather he’s requesting on behalf of his sister Dr. Lily Houghton, played by Emily Blunt. Dr. Lily isn’t allowed to be a member of or address the Royal Society directly because she’s a woman, hence MacGregor having to do it for her. After hearing the denial from the Royal Society, Dr. Lily steals the arrowhead and escapes before being caught. This doesn’t just anger the Royal Society, but it also angers the German Prince Joachim, played by Jesse Plemons, whom the Royal Society was going to give the arrowhead to.
Dr. Lily heads to South America with MacGregor and seek to hire the harbormaster, Mr. Nilo, played by Paul Giamatti, to take them down the river to locate the tree. Due to a misunderstanding, they instead hire skipper and tour guide, Frank Wolff, played by Dwayne Johnson, to take them down the river. They’re followed by Prince Joachim who has also arrived in the Amazon with a U-boat seeking the tree.
As they travel down the river, Frank, MacGregor, and Dr. Lily get to know each other more with Frank and Dr. Lily annoyed and bemused by each other much throughout the film. Dr. Lily is especially annoyed at a number of lies and overall fraudulent encounters regarding Frank such as faking an attack by a jaguar (which turned out to be his pet) and lying about not knowing about the tree. He actually owned multiple maps purported to lead to the tree’s location, but to no avail. Meanwhile Prince Joachim has found the petrified bodies of the conquistadors entwined with the jungle. He awakes them using water from the river causing them to be “reborn” as mangled messes of humans mixed with jungle animals, such as bees and snakes. He wants them to retrieve the arrowhead for him from Dr. Lily and in exchange, he’ll grant them petals of the flower when he finds the tree.
Dr. Lily, Frank, and MacGregor are soon captured by a local tribe which turns out to be paid actors whom Frank uses on his jungle tours to provide entertainment for his customers. This time, however, he forgot to call them off, leaving Dr. Lily to be understandably irritated with him again.
Not long after that, the monstrous zombies attack them resulting in Frank being stabbed and falling to his presumed death in the waters below.
Dr. Lily and MacGregor are saddened by this loss, but manage to escape the conquistadors as they further into the jungle. The curse is still active upon the conquistadors preventing them from going too far away from the Amazon River. While in the jungle, Dr. Lily and MacGregor discover that Frank has survived the fall which leads to a secret about his identity.
So Frank is actually Francisco, one of the original conquistadors and best friends with the head conquistador Aguirre, played by Édgar Ramírez. They had originally set out to find the tree to cure Aguirre’s daughter who was suffering from an illness when the tribe found them and healed them with the flower petals. When they wouldn’t disclose the location of the tree, Aguirre attacked the tribespeople. Francisco tried to stop Aguirre from doing so ruining their friendship forever. The tribal leader then cursed all the conquistadors with the curse of immortality and not being able to be far from the Amazon River. As the years went on, Francisco and Aguirre would continue to fight until Francisco trapped them in the jungle somewhere allowing them to be petrified and far from hurting anyone. He spent the rest of his time building a town and looking for the tree to break his curse. He was also the official cartographer of the expedition which is why he possessed many maps of the area. Unfortunately, he never found the tree and relegated himself to being a skipper and tour guide for paying customers.
Dr. Lily becomes more understanding of Frank and they continue their journey. Using the arrowhead, they are finally able to locate the tree in a submerged temple. Unfortunately, Prince Joachim has also found them along with his conquistadors leading to a skirmish between the two parties. Prince Joachim eventually dies after a rock falls on him and Frank sacrifices his life for Dr. Lily and MacGregor by crashing his boat to block the river from entering the temple. Now cut off from the river, he and the other conquistadors become petrified. Dr. Lily saves Frank though by offering a petal to his petrified self bringing him back to life once more. No longer bound by the curse, Frank is able to leave the Amazon and travels back to London with Dr. Lily. MacGregor returns to the Royal Society to announce their findings while declining to be a member while Dr. Lily teaches Frank how to drive a car.
And that was Jungle Cruise! And…I don’t know what to think. Like I mentioned before, the ride doesn’t have a plot, so the screenwriters had the freedom to devise anything they wanted. However this plot both seems too loose as well as overly complicated. I mean, there’s a conquistador curse, but there’s also a German villain. Plus there’s a backstory for Frank, which I love, but it seemed way too late in the story to bring it up.
Also, I’m confused as to how the petals work. When Frank became free of the curse at the end of the film, shouldn’t he have become like 400 years old a la Mother Gothel in Tangled? And I think this is the first film I’ve seen where a character wants to find something to save the world (Dr. Lily searching for the tree to cure illnesses everywhere), but doesn’t actually do anything with that at the end of the movie! She saves Frank, but then goes gallivanting across London!
The movie was also surprisingly disgusting at times with scenes of vomiting and the zombie conquistadors being mangled with snakes and bees not being pleasant to look at.
Another odd choice was the use of dramatic rock music while the conquistadors were attacking the tribe; it felt so out of place!
I thought Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, and Jack Whitehall gave good performances, although Johnson and Blunt felt like they were playing themselves. Jesse Plemons wasn’t bad either, but I couldn’t get into Édgar Ramírez’s performance at all.
I dunno, this film is puzzling. It definitely needed a few more redrafts yet somehow a sequel is being made. We’ll see how that turns out, but my hopes are not high!
So, my final score for this film is 18/35 = 51.43% (F) !
The next review will be posted on April 12, 2022.