A quirky-for-her-age academic and her well-heeled, party-loving brother team up with a sardonic salt-of-the-earth guy to use an ancient map to find something of life beyond death. That’s the basic plot of Stephen Sommers’ 1999 The Mummy, and it’s the basic plot of Jaume Collet-Serra’s 2021 Jungle Cruise, too. The Mummy was one of the last great adventure films before superheroes took over the genre, and Jungle Cruise is desperate to recapture that spark. Shockingly, it’s pretty effective at that.
It doesn’t always work. Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt don’t have the same kind of chemistry as Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, and the CGI is often shaky and cartoonish in an unpleasant way. But adventure films are meant to be escapism fun, and Jungle Cruise nails that part perfectly. Set in 1916, Blunt plays Lily Houghton, an explorer and researcher following in her father’s footsteps and hunting for a magic flower in the Amazon that could transform medicine (and show up the thoroughly sexist explorer society). Jack Whitehall is her brother, MacGregor, who would really rather be enjoying a cool gin and tonic in the shade than traveling to the Amazon, but will do it for his sister. Dwayne Johnson is Frank Wolff, their rugged guide who narrates the journeys on his boat with the same pun-laden jibes as a cast member of Disney’s Jungle Cruise theme park ride. They travel down the Amazon facing all the things you’d expect them to face: dangerous animals, piranhas, ghosts, German submarines, and even a mysterious tribe. (More on that in a bit.)
With the exception of some goofy twists I absolutely do not want to spoil, it’s a very by-the-numbers adventure film in the vein of The Mummy, Indiana Jones, and King Solomon’s Mine. There are even whiffs of other movies like African Queen, and yes, really, Aguirre, Wrath of God. They fight monsters made of honeycomb and mud and try to avoid a delightfully bizarre German noble played by reliable bad guy Jesse Plemons. And the whole time, it feels like you’re watching something manufactured in a lab to capture that spark The Mummy had, except everyone working on it in the lab was also doing a few healthy lines of cocaine while they wrote.