Quick question: is ‘formulaic’ an insult when reviewing something? What does formulaic imply? That something is predictable and lacking in originality? But the formula has been boiled down to recordable parts because it holds all the proven winning elements, virtually guaranteed to tickle the brain’s pleasure chemicals.
Jungle Cruise is a movie where you will immediately recognise the ingredients, influences, and path it is likely to take. And yet, so what?
Disney’s plundering of its own theme park rides continues with Jungle Cruise, starring Dwayne Johnson (I don’t need to add ‘The Rock’ anymore, do I?), Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place) and Jack Whitehall. As an expositional introduction rumbles through all we need to know (sought after treasure, magical curse over those who sought it before, etc. etc.) other movies such as The Mummy, Pirates of the Caribbean, or Indiana Jones will at once leap to mind.
In fact, Jungle Cruise owes a big debt to The Mummy. A vivacious young woman looked down upon due to her sex and forced to employ a rascal guide is essentially The Mummy 101, with Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt) channelling the same qualities that made Rachel Weisz so effective in that movie.
Her chipper upbeat determination plays off her unwilling and sardonic brother (MacGregor – played by Whitehall) and clashes with the shrewd and cynical Frank (Johnson, Red Notice). The interplay between these three central characters is fun and fizzy, despite shamelessly copy pasting the formula from a movie 22 years old.
Time to switch comparisons now because the antagonist force of cursed conquistadors imbuing urgency into everyone’s search for the plot-driving mythical magical wotsit (here, a healing/life extending flower called the ‘Lágrimas de Cristal’) calls to mind the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Jungle Cruise tries throwing a creative mix of specific nasties in the mix (ability to control bees, poison darts, tree branches, snakes, and so on) but lacks the kind of memorable central baddie performance that made the films it apes such full-bodied successes.
Despite cursed conquistador Aguirre (Édgar Ramirez) lacking the scenery-chewing individualism of, say, Geoffrey Rush’s Hector Barbossa, what Jungle Cruise nails is the sheer delightful adventure of it all. It even manages to throw in a genuine mid-movie surprise to switch things up.
A reported budget of over $200 million pilots Jungle Cruise into one of the top fifty most expensive movies ever made. Whilst you would be hard-pressed to find singular wow moments, the movie sparkles with confident background and foreground sheen. Time spent on the boat ogling the sights as they drift past is time well spent.
How much does a formulaic movie bother you? It is arguable that all stories have been told before, but simply remixed in the retelling. The difference between entertainment and dross is a subjective one, but any core must surely be how real the characters seem.
If we care for their successes and are hurt by their losses then it is worth the journey, even if it is deep in the footprints of those who have voyaged before. Jungle Cruise plots its course like a sat nav charting the most efficient route, yet sprinkled on top is magic enough to make each predictable turn still a satisfying adventure.
Words by Mike Record