Disney ride-to-screen adaptation Jungle Cruise is 'an uproarious thrill ride'
JUNGLE CRUISE (12A, 127 mins) Action/Adventure/Comedy/Romance. Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Edgar Ramirez, Paul Giamatti. Director: Jaume Collet-Serra.
Released: July 30 and available on Disney+ with Premier Access from July 30
IF PIRATES Of The Caribbean and Raiders Of The Lost Ark walked the plank arm-in-arm, the resulting splash of supernatural swashbuckler and booby-trapped treasure hunt would look strikingly similar to director Jaume Collet-Serra's rollicking action adventure.
Inspired by the water attraction in four Disney theme parks, Jungle Cruise spins a fantastical yarn in the shadow of the First World War, which encourages audiences to avoid close scrutiny of historical accuracy and logic.
There's no easy, credible explanation as to how Dwayne Johnson's riverboat captain could achieve an impressively ripped physique from guided tours of jungle tributaries on an empty stomach (his credit at the bustling harbour taverna is overextended), nor why Emily Blunt's plucky botanist, who has never learnt to swim, would be a natural underwater at the first attempt and possess remarkable lung capacity in one of the film's elaborate action sequences.
Collet-Serra gleefully knocks realism overboard in an exhilarating opening chase, which incorporates acrobatic ladder tricks borrowed from the golden age of silent movies. His film is escapism writ large, galvanised by old-fashioned verbal sparring between Johnson and Blunt and a broad comic turn from Jack Whitehall as Blunt's fashion-conscious brother, who discloses that his romantic interests "happily lie… elsewhere" in a tender coming-out scene that continues the trend of LGBTQ visibility and positivity in Disney films.
Dr Lily Houghton (Blunt) and well-to-do younger sibling MacGregor (Whitehall) travel from 1916 London to Porto Velho in Brazil to locate the fabled Tears of the Moon – a tree festooned with glowing pink petals capable of healing any illness.
According to legend, Spanish conquistador Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez) and his troops failed hundreds of years ago to locate the tree and their accursed souls are now tethered to the jungle by ancient magic.
Lily bargains with riverboat captain Frank Wolff (Johnson) to hire his boat, La Quila, and travel upstream to prove the tree's existence.
Unfortunately, crazed German aristocrat Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) also seeks the tree, believing the petals can win the Great War for his homeland and cement his place in history. He shadows Lily, Frank and MacGregor in a torpedo-armed submarine, awaiting the perfect moment to strike.
Jungle Cruise is an uproarious thrill ride, which wrings every giggle and guffaw from the sparkling on-screen chemistry between Johnson and Blunt's bickering explorers. They appear to be having a blast and their enthusiasm is infectious.
Scriptwriters Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa reference the theme park attraction with the inclusion of the character of Trader Sam and groanworthy puns in Johnson's banter.
Ramirez's archvillain is poorly served and feels undernourished, despite nests of digitally conjured snakes slithering through his body that could scare young children.
An unexpected and outlandish plot twist tees up a spectacular final reckoning soaked in emotion and keeps afloat the possibility of further rumbles in the jungle.