Raging rapids. Zombie Conquistadors. CG animals and a German U-boat. Oh, and let’s not forget Paul Giamatti with a ripe Italian accent. There’s a lot to take in on Disney’s Jungle Cruise – so much so, in fact, you may need to have a quiet lie-down afterwards.
With its stunts, spectacle and brazen steals from the Raiders, Pirates and Mummy series, Jaume Collet-Serra’s Amazonian adventure certainly goes all out to entertain. Yet it also reaches a point where it becomes exhausting. There are so many obstacles between river-boat captain Frank (Dwayne Johnson), anthropologist Lily (Emily Blunt), and the eternal-life-giving petals they’re questing after that you get little time to take stock, take a breather, and take in the scenery.
There isn’t much room for romance, despite a few attempts to engineer one between Johnson’s opportunistic skipper and Blunt’s determined academic. Thankfully – and unsurprisingly – the stars acquit themselves well when it comes to the physical demands of the mission, running, jumping, dangling, and zip-lining with gusto.
Attempts at comedy prove rather hit and miss, for all Jack Whitehall’s striving to provide laughs as Lily’s pompous but impractical brother MacGregor, who’s also on board for the petal quest.
But before any sort of goal is reached, there’s a sizeable slab of back story to get through: the undead curse afflicting Edgar Ramirez’s vengeful Spanish explorer necessitates not one but two extended flashbacks. Meanwhile, screenwriters Glenn Ficarra, John Requa and Michael Green go to somewhat convoluted lengths to ensure the dart-shooting natives and cannibal headhunters encountered en route are wily role-players in on the joke. More successful – and succinct – is the takedown of sexism, with London’s crusty boffins getting short shrift for not allowing Blunt to join their ranks.
Like the surfeit of suitcases MacGregor totes around with him, there’s a lot of baggage for what is essentially a theme-park-ride writ large. Small wonder, then, that it’s when the focus is at its narrowest that the movie is most effective: during an African Queen-style plunge down the aforementioned rapids, for example, or a set-piece where Johnson has a barroom brawl with a snarling jaguar.
Scenes like these have a clear sense of jeopardy, upping the fun factor and bringing Jungle Cruise closer to the adventure templates on which it’s modelled. Oh, and if you think Giamatti’s Italian accent is over the top, wait until you hear the one Jesse Plemons sports as the submarine-sailing Prince Joachim.