Jungle Cruise is a 2021 fantasy adventure film starring Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti and since the movie is set in a jungle, Hollywood’s go-to-guy for action in the jungle, Dwayne Johnson. The movie’s plot is simple with the captain of a small riverboat taking a group of travelers through the Amazon in search of the legendary Tree of Life. The movie works to an extent because of Johnson and Blunt’s on-screen chemistry and a comical villainous turn from Jesse Plemons.
In the 16th century, Don Aguirre leads Spanish conquistadors to South America to search for the Tears of the Moon, a mythical tree whose petals cure illness, heal injuries, and lift curses. After many conquistadors die, a local tribe heals the survivors with the tree petals. The tribal chief refuses to reveal the tree’s location, and Aguirre stabs him and destroys the village (typical right?). The dying chief curses the conquistadors, making them immortal and unable to leave sight of the Amazon River. The jungle recaptures anyone attempting to escape and absorbs them into it.
In 1916 London, Dr. Lily Houghton’s (Emily Blunt) Tears of the Moon research is presented by her brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), to the Royal Society, claiming that the tree’s petals could revolutionize medicine and aid the British war effort. The Houghtons request access to a recently acquired arrowhead artifact. Lily believes it, along with an old map, is key to locating the tree. The society denies the request, believing the tree is a myth and female scientists are inferior. Lily steals the arrowhead, narrowly evading Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), a German royal seeking the tree to help Germany win the war and speaking English with a dreadful German accent.
In Brazil, Lily and MacGregor need a boat and a guide to lead them down the Amazon. We are soon introduced to Paul Giamatti who is utterly wasted in this movie and is instead paid to speak in a dreadful Italian accent for his part as a greedy, cowardly river boat owner. They choose Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) instead for obvious reasons, a riverboat skipper who offers cut-rate jungle cruises embellished with faked dangers and corny puns and oh who also has a pet jaguar. Frank initially declines, believing it too dangerous and that the tree is a myth, but reconsiders seeing the arrowhead. Frank steals back his repossessed boat engine, and he and the Houghtons depart. Joachim attacks them in a German submarine (basically out of nowhere) but the group escape and journey downriver (of course, they do. Broken ass wooden boats usually always beat U-boats).
Inside Frank’s cabin, Lily notices photos and sketches of modern inventions, as well as maps, drawings, and research on the Tears of the Moon. She accuses Frank of seeking the tree, but he insists he gave up long ago. A “cannibal” tribe captures the group but it is another of Frank’s faux dangers, which he claims he was unable to call off in time. Lily is furious and now doubts his trustworthiness. The tribal leader translates the arrowhead’s symbols, revealing the tree location and that it only blooms under a blood moon. Meanwhile, Joachim locates the conquistadors petrified inside a cave and diverts river water to free them, after he offers to lift their curse if they retrieve the arrowhead; the Spaniards attack the tribe and fatally stab Frank. Lily flees with the arrowhead. As she crosses the curse’s boundary, the jungle drags the pursuing Spaniards back.
To the Houghtons’ shock, a fully revived Frank is found the next morning. He reveals his real name is Francisco, and he is one of the conquistadors who were on a noble quest to save Aguirre’s gravely ill daughter. When the Spaniards attacked the natives, Frank defended the village. After years of fighting, Frank trapped the conquistadors in the cave where they turned to stone. He then spent centuries searching for the tree to lift his own curse. Well you were promised fantasy and you got it! The problem with the movie is the excessive CGI. After a while, even Dwayne Johnson looks like he has been made to walk and do stuff through CGI.
Lily and Frank continue on to a waterfall. They release a submerged stone structure that has a passageway. Meanwhile, Joachim captures MacGregor, forcing him to reveal Lily’s location. Frank, Lily, MacGregor, the Germans, and the Spaniards all converge on the tree. They learn the arrowhead is actually a heart-shaped locket containing a gemstone. After placing the gem and locket into the trunk, the dormant tree blooms under the blood moon. A fight ensues, during which Lily recovers one petal. MacGregor kills Joachim, and Frank crashes his boat to block the river, turning himself and the Spaniards into stone. Lily, realizing her true feelings for Frank, sacrifices the petal to lift his curse. Frank, who wanted to end his life, decides to continue living to be with Lily. The moon casts one last beam and a single petal blooms, allowing Lily to take a petal with her so that her research can proceed but World War 1 still manages to slaughter millions and the the Second World War would kill more, so it’s evident, she didn’t do a lot of good research on it.
Upon their return to England, the Royal Society offers Lily full membership, which she rejects. Lily shows Frank all of London and teaches him to drive an automobile. Yes, instead of getting to work on a miracle cure through the petal to save “humanity”.
Jungle Cruise fails because it tries to incorporate too much into it. CGI pets? Check. Spanish conquistadors and German U-boats? Check. Blonde hottie? Check. Lovable hulk? Check. Lastly, I understand Disney wants to appear “WOKE” now but MacGregor needs to be gay? I mean do you need to squeeze virtue signalling in even in a movie set in 1916? However, not all is bad and the movie does have its funny moments. But it’s all too little. Though Blunt and Johnson’s chemistry is quite refreshing it doesn’t save the movie. For example, how is a Doctor of Botany, such a good fighter (Emily Blunt)?
Watch Jungle Cruise on Disney+ if you enjoy movies that don’t make much sense and you enjoy the 19th century to be woke.