Beat the heat with a cool Amazonian adventure
chinadaily.com.cn

Jungle Cruise, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, written by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, Michael Green. Starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. USA, 127 minutes, IIA. Now in cinemas. [PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY]

The summertime goofy blockbuster season that was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 appears to be making a slow comeback. Granted, Hong Kong cinemas did roll out new films last year, but the landscape was decidedly different — marked by local Indies and European festival stragglers.

Pundits and analysts wondered if crowds would return for the big budget nonsense they are accustomed to watching during the hottest months of the year and the answer appears to be: Yes. F9, Pixar's Luca, and Marvel's Black Widow have racked up nearly HK$100 million (US$12.85 million) in ticket sales since Godzilla vs Kong started the ball rolling in April.

Into this rebirth season comes Jungle Cruise, a slice of classic Disney IP product. And product it is indeed. While not the obviously shameless intellectual property plug that Warner's Space Jam: A New Legacy is, Jungle Cruise is nonetheless the House of Mouse at its most brand forward. Marry that to star Dwayne Johnson's carefully calculated myth-making and marketing and you have a recipe for what will likely be the least artistic, most creatively cynical film of the year. Which is not to say it's "bad": this is polished, high production value entertainment, precision engineered to appeal to the largest possible segment of the movie-going public — and perhaps get them interested in a visit to the park one day.

Like the multi-billion dollar property that is Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise is based on a ride through the eponymous Disney theme park from which racist depictions of Amazonian native people were removed recently. In the film, early-20th century scientist Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) hires cranky riverboat captain Frank Wolff (Johnson) to take her and her fussy brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) down the Amazon to locate a legendary tree of life that could be the basis for medical progress.

Jungle Cruise, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, written by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa, Michael Green. Starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. USA, 127 minutes, IIA. Now in cinemas. [PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY]

Cut to 400 years back and the murderous Spanish conquest of South America. Conquistador Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez, not recalling Werner Herzog's Aguirre in any way) and his band of merry men were struck by illness. They were saved by a local tribe who had used a magic flower from the tree as the elixir, but went on to betray the benefactors and were eventually trapped in the jungle.

Enter this same jungle German Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons, gloriously chewing up the scenery), in search of the blossom for the German army (the story unfolds during WWI, though you would never know it) and it's a three-way race to the treasure. Who will prevail? Hint: the film's star is The Rock.

If any of that sounds vaguely like The Mummy (plucky female scientist/adventurer), Raiders of the Lost Ark (a hunt for a supernatural all-powerful artefact), Jumanji (a jungle), The African Queen (a salty riverboat captain) or any combination of parts from each, you are not imagining things. This is one of Disney's most Frankensteined films. Jungle Cruise tries to stay modern with some low-key progressiveness involving MacGregor, and the story does its level best to make Lily's entitlement justified, but the film's "business" tone lingers.

Still, it's bright, shiny (mostly), swift-moving top-shelf family entertainment, available in an air-conditioned space during a heat wave. Is Jungle Cruise going to make a splash? When was the last time Disney made a bad business decision?