Saturday, July 31, 2021

Jungle Cruise


1916 London. Botanist Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) tries in vain to get her research about a miraculous flower petal with revolutionary healing properties in the Amazon recognized by the scientific community through her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall). When every other attempt fails, she devices a plan to steal an arrowhead artifact from the museum which is rumored to be the key to locating the mysterious tree. Despite the challenges, she is successful in retrieving the remnant and soon finds her way to Brazil along with her brother to find someone to ferry them through the Amazon. Lucky for them, experienced skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) proves to be eager to get the job done, after seeing the relic tied around her neck. Unbeknownst to them, persistent German royal Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) is also after the petal and the tree to swing the tide of war into is country’s favor. Their journey into the Amazon will awaken centuries-old ghosts from the past who have also tried and failed to secure the magical petal.

To be honest, it felt like I was watching a recycled take on The Mummy. The formula is just too similar. You have a brainy but shunned English rose who is way ahead of her time and in pursuit of an ancient world wonder. In The Mummy it was the Book of the Dead; here, it’s the cure-all Tears of the Moon. Replace Egypt with Brazil. Pyramids with the Amazon River. Instead of mummies, toss in some doomed Spanish conquistadores, in any case both undead. Brendan Fraser becomes The Rock. Both Rachel Weisz and Emily Blunt have a younger bro for a sidekick. You get the drift.

Story wise, the screenwriters do their best to come up with a narrative supposedly based on real-life figures and history of conquest during the era of exploration. They deserve some kudos with that aspect of storytelling because they come up with a storyline that seems legit. It is perhaps the magical side of it that does not seem compelling. It would have been awesome had they delved deeper into Amazon folklore to develop the mystical side of the story even more. I am sure the cultures endemic to the region wouldn’t have a scarcity of legends and myths to share.

In an alternate box office universe without a pandemic, Jungle Cruise could have served as the launch of yet another lucrative franchise from Disney. Think another Pirates of the Caribbean. But since we live in uncertain times, this might end up as a one-off thing to promote the theme park ride once the world’s Disneylands reopen. I haven’t personally been on the ride. The closest I can remember was a similar Tarzan attraction somewhere that also involved a boat. The film has a good way of making you feel as though you were on the ride itself. I guess it has something to do with the corny skipper jokes as well as what randomly pops up as they cruise through the river.

For children, this will be another addition to their filmography of Disney adventure tales, the kind that sticks with you until you get older. There are enough distractions in the two-hour runtime to keep everyone entertained. For adults, what you will appreciate more are the socially relevant themes prevalent during that time that may or may not be persisting until today. Some of them include sexism evident in various fields traditionally dominated by men, colonization and its exploitation of the aboriginal population as well as homosexuality during those times despite the subplot not really being fully explored.

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