Take a large dollop of theme park ride, a soupçon of The Mummy franchise and a fairly heavy sprinkling of Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean and The African Queen and you get Jungle Cruise, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s latest attempt to make big box office by sheer personality alone.
And honestly, he more or less pulls it off. Slick, fun and genuinely entertaining, Jungle Cruise is a good time at the cinema – even if it’s one of the least original properties you’re likely to see at the multiplexes this year, which is saying something.
Johnson stars as “Skipper” Frank, a faintly irascible, Dwayne Johnson-esque figure who dressed like Humphrey Bogart and wrestles with jungle cats for fun. He’s hired by Emily Blunt’s determined Dr Lily Houghton and her brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall, who’s a much bigger part of the film than the trailers suggested) to take them down the Amazon river in his boat, on the hunt of the life-giving “Tears of the Moon”.
Hot on their trail is a German expedition led by a highly-strung Jesse Plemons (notably, the film takes place during the First World War), but Teutonic torpedoes are only one of the threats faced by the plucky crew including animal attacks, greedy businessmen, supernatural hunters, white water rapids and deadly, ancient traps.
Again, the clearest influence is fellow Disneyland-ride-adaptation Pirates of the Caribbean, from the vague hand-wavy immortality MacGuffin, undead, cleverly-themed foes (watch out for a bee-controlling honey monster) and a vein of humour that hits differently with parents than younger viewers.
Still, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Like the first Pirates of the Caribbean (and unlike every sequel) Jungle Cruise is a well-oiled machine that delivers exactly on what it promises, with satisfying action, laugh-out-loud jokes (it helps if you enjoy puns, admittedly) and plot turns that will keep audiences engaged if not entirely enthralled.
It’s a fun movie, basically. Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson make for a spikily entertaining pair, Jack Whitehall delivers a more likeable performance than his buzzkill role in the story would suggest (though a debate rages on about the appropriateness of his casting as a gay character) and after the credits rolled I left the cinema filled with buoyant good cheer.
Don’t get me wrong, Jungle Cruise has its faults. Despite his best efforts Johnson doesn’t deliver the roguish energy of Brendan Fraser in The Mummy, some of the side characters are fairly broadly drawn and one final act twist is revealed in an unintentionally funny flashback that can only be described as hair-raising.
Still, overall I was pleasantly surprised by just how much fun I had on Disney’s Jungle Cruise – a sentiment I first felt while eight years old in California after we left the ride. It’s not the most original project in the world, but it’s well worth the price of admission.