The Amazon is a river of stories, the rainforest a hidden world in which the unimaginable can reveal itself to the seeker. Here the conquistadors searched for gold lands, here fantasy-gifted people transplanted the source of eternal youth, and here Sean Connery found what he was looking for in John McTiernan’s film “Medicine Man” (1992) in search of a cancer remedy, which was then produced by an ant species crawling only in a tiny corner of the jungle, which lived in symbiosis with a plant that thrived only there. Excavators and slash-and-burn harvesters then destroyed this place.
The Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra retrates McTiernan’s story as an adventure spectacle, much more entertaining and also happier ending. “All legends are rooted in reality,” says Jungle Cruise. And makes us know something about the “tears of the moon”, extremely short-flowering flowers of a fabulous tree that can “cure any disease and break any curse”.
Already Aguirre was looking for the “tears of the moon”
Aha – the paranormal is included, which suggests fantasy and horror elements. Even Lope Aguirre, the cruel conquistador who founded the world cinema fame of Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog in 1972, had been after a mythical arrowhead 400 years earlier, which alone point the way to the “tears”, we learn. But he and his men were defeated by a very defensive jungle. Of course, not definitively, as we will learn.
Male intellectual circles express “female” contemptuously
Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), daughter of a famous English Amazon researcher, is also looking for this very tip in the world war year of 1916. While her rhetorically rather untalented brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) attracts the wrath of the predominantly grey-haired, exclusively male members of a London scientific society with a bumpy lecture, she, the actual expert, but who is not entitled by gender to give lectures, makes her way into their archives, where an expedition box is stored that contains that arrow.
When the illustrious English intellectual circles pronounce the word “fe-male”, it sounds almost as disparaging as “ka-mel”. If Lily encounters an archive employee on the way to the secret premises, he immediately sends the “lost” into the secretary’s hallway. Where else can a member of the uneducated sex want to go? Now – time for a lesson in the subject “female emancipation”.
We already know: The villain is a German prince
When Lily finds the arrowhead, she soon dramatically hangs on a library ladder from a window high above the rattling Schnauferl traffic of the automotive metropolis of London. There is a villainous antagonist who has brought her into this almost hopeless situation in a truly furious first action scene. And – as usual in adventure films set in the first half of the 20th century – he is a German: Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who likes to parade in fantasy uniforms, also wants to go to “tears” via arrow, because he hopes that the magic plant will win the German Reich in the First World War.
The film does not explain further how such a victory by flowering should take place exactly. But in Spielberg’s “Hunters of the Lost Ark”, the Nazi Germans also hoped for something unexplained, Greater German from the possession of the Ark of the Covenant of God (with the ten commandments poorly or not obeyed by Hitler and his henchmen in it). That was enough for an overwhelming 111 minutes of cinema entertainment in 1981. 40 years later, it’s 127 minutes, similarly enjoyable, but less original.
Jaume Collet-Serra quotes many things – from “African Queen” to “Hatari!”
Collet-Serra and his authors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa collect quotes in abundance in their film. In addition to classic adventure film series such as “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Indiana Jones” as well as a stolen big cat punchline from Howard Hawks’ animal catcher epic “Hatari!” (1961) John Huston’s “African Queen” (1951) is mainly plundered. The premature babies among today’s cinema fans remember Katharine Hepburn as the resolute missionary Rose Sayer, who fled from the advancing Germans in East Africa at the beginning of the First World War on the dilapidated riverboat of the mechanic Charlie Allnutt, played by Humphrey Bogart.
The Bogart of Collet-Serra is called Dwayne Johnson and sails a tourist boat called La Quila (named after the moon goddess of the Incas) across the Amazon. The ship is held together only by ropes and good hope, dhe skipper Frank Wolff commutes on his excursions every minute between entertainment and repair measures, and incidentally has a lucrative deal with a native tribe to intimidate the passengers.
A trio à la “The Mummy” has hair-raising adventures
Frank himself is heavily in debt to the local mobster Nilo (Paul Giamatti). When he wants to retrieve his boat confiscated by Nilo with a burglary, he meets Lily and McGregor, who is quite intimidated by the force of nature, both of whom are looking for a skipper to drive to the “tears”. And already a trio (feminist, macker and softie) is complete, which now – like Bredan Fraser, Rchel Weisz and John Hannah in “The Mummy” (1999) – consists in a hair-raising adventure.
The male hero must give way to the heroine
All this is told with a lot of wit and wink, not too profound dialogues and above all reversed gender roles. The male hero Frank is gently pushed to the side and has to give way to heroin. While Frank learns to deal with the first woman he ever saw in pants, whom he only calls “Buxe” (in the original: “pants”), he is mainly there to confirm the advance of emancipation with growing respect. Although he swings over the deck of “La Quila” like Tarzan, Lily is – like Lara Croft in the “Tomb Raider” flicks – the true center of the story.
Emily Blunt would also be ideal for a romantic development, but – hey – Dwayne Johnson is as always more of a papa bear than a sensual Romeo until the overdramatized ending. Although nothing crackles, Frank is still lovable, and so the cuddliest wrestler who ever switched from the ring to the screen gets a resurrection scene à la Balu in Disney’s “Jungle Book”.
Gender justice, racism, LGBTQI+ – a little bit of everything
In general, energy and dynamism are everything here anyway, and whether the tempo of the sometimes artificial scenery and the not always on-the-top CGI work in the fantasy adventure film hybrid, which is based on a (racially illustrated) Disneyland attraction from 1955, seems more fairytale-like unreal than poor. In addition to the subject of gender justice, burning topics such as LGBTQI+ acceptance and racism are woven into the formulaic plot. McGregor comes out to Frank as gay and is freely accepted by him. And: “Next time you’ll pay more for this booga-booga nonsense,” the self-confident chief of the fictitious Amazon tribe of the Puka Michuna explains to her client.
Meanwhile, the world’s battered lungs continue to be destroyed day after day. The feeling that the raw logging of this world could irretrievably lose undiscovered secrets of nature is also one of the “aftermaths” of this film. “Scheiße” is the “famous last german word” in this movie. And even if Prince Joachim comments on his rapidly approaching end, there is only one thing to add: Save the rainforest!
“Jungle Cruise”, 127 minutes, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, with Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons (available for an extra charge on Disney+ and in cinemas)