JUNGLE CRUISE Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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All aboard for a cruise you're unlikely to forget.
Take a liberal sprinkling of Pirates of the Caribbean, mixed with recognisable beats from the Indiana Jones franchise and a splash of African Queen. Add to that that a classic adventure story with a script which champions gender equality and makes the most of leading actress Emily Blunt, plus a generous portion of the charming on-screen charisma that Dwayne Johnson always brings, and you've got a great recipe for fantasy escapism. And who couldn't do with some of that right now?

There are a lot of negative reviews doing the rounds for Disney's Jungle Cruise but I found it to be a thoroughly entertaining couple of hours. Is it perfect? No, but, IMHO, it is the best film Disney have produced which is based on one of their theme park rides (what, you thought I was gonna say Haunted Mansion?!) and is a good Summer popcorn movie for pretty much the whole family (very little ones may be a tad scared by some of the well-realised effects).

Set in 1916, as the title probably allows you to infer, the story revolves around a jungle cruise, a privately chartered one at that, with Emily Blunt's Dr. Lily Houghton hiring the services of Dwayne Johnson's Amazon river steamboat captain Frank "Skipper" Wolff on a quest for the Tears of the Moon, a mythical tree whose petals can cure any illness, heal any injury, and lift any curse. The main plot itself is maybe the least part of the film, in that at no time do we the audience ever really believe that Lily won't find the Tree of Life, but it's the journey the characters go on which make Jungle Cruise worth the investment. It's just so damn entertaining, with director Jaume Collet-Serra throwing everything but the kitchen sink at you, that you really have to be a hardened cynic to not be drawn into this fantastic voyage.

Blunt and Johnson play off each other very well and, thankfully, it's not all one sided with Johnson's Frank always saving the day, rather Blunt's adventurous Lily has as much to do, if not moreso, in the action stakes. Would this have happened 100 years ago? Very likely not, and the fact that - shock, horror - we have a woman wearing trousers and 'doing as men do' is well addressed within book-ending scenes of the film. Jungle Cruise is, though, out and out fantasy and regardless of the time setting of the film it feels very much produced for today. And all the better for it. Mostly.

Which sorta brings me to one aspect I'm torn on. MacGregor Houghton, Blunt's on-screen brother played by Jack Whitehall, provides some good moments of comic relief, as you'd probably expect from the British comedian, although I'm torn as to whether the introduction of his character's sexuality in, what felt to me like, a sensitively delivered conversation is a positive step forward for LGBTQ character representation within these blockbuster productions or just something of a headline grabbing afterthought - I'd love to believe it's solely the first option, I suspect it's not 100% that though, and as a straight male I'm happy to bow to greater knowledge as to if this has been handled as sensitively as it seemed to me.

The trio of main characters are joined by a well-cast collection of supporting actors. Not least of which is Breaking Bad's Jesse Plemons (looking remarkably like a young Benny Hill) who plays Prince Joachim, a Nazi who wants the Tears of the Moon for his own nefarious reasons (and like every good Indiana Jones film, making the bad guy a Nazi never fails to get the audience on side of the actual heroes). Zero Dark Thirty's Édgar Ramírez plays Aguirre, a ruthless and power hungry Conquistador who once sought the Tree's power, only to be cursed with immortality for his cold heart (who, along with his crew, echo several moments from the Pirates of the Caribbean films). Billions' Paul Giamatti is perhaps the most underused of the supporting cast. As harbormaster Nilo Nemolato, Giamatti is far better than what he's given and is written a little too clichéd compared to some of the other characters

Although the storyline itself isn't exactly groundbreaking, and getting from A to B is rarely in doubt, there are as many twists and turns within the plot as there are in the flow of the Amazon river, and plenty of well-spaced and well-realised action set-pieces with the film - not least of which a thrilling U-boat chase that makes exceptional use of the cinema's sound system. In many ways, despite the CGI effects, Jungle Cruise plays more like a classic adventure of yesteryear; from the South American harbour town set, through the lush jungle vegetation, the assorted wildlife and exotic creatures to the cannibals treetops village, it's a visual feast for the eyes.

In summary then; Jungle Cruise is a well-cast, well-paced, thrilling, funny, action movie. Like a classic adventure film from yesteryear, and hitting a lot of the same beats as the Indiana Jones films (including a cut to a map to show travel), with a script that feels very much in-line with today's audiences, it's a great movie to see on the big screen, now that cinema is back. Equally, I feel sure it will have plenty of re-watch value if you go for the Disney+ Premiere Access option. However you choose to watch Jungle Cruise, if you want a couple of hours of family friendly escapist fun then I don't think you'll be disappointed.

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