Stockwell review: ‘Jungle Cruise’ an endearing thrill ride

The other day I was reading about the latest trend on cruise ships. They have been installing trampolines as part of the exercise deck.

I guess everyone is jumping on board.

Please don’t tell me you didn’t see that coming. Also, they have revamped their menu options for passengers on a particular diet. Of course, they avoid one specific vegetable.

Leeks.

That sound you hear is my editor telling me to stop.

As you can guess, this week I took the “Jungle Cruise,” Disney’s latest theme park ride-inspired movie. It opens with a flashback story in the Amazon jungle and the many expeditions to find treasures in the mysterious ecosystem. The greatest of all, however, is a mystical tree, Tears of the Moon, with petals that hold healing powers to cure any disease or curse. When a group of conquistadors attempts to steal it from a local tribe, they become imprisoned within the jungle for their attempted crime.

We then are taken to the year the story is set, 1916, as Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) has her research presented to the British Royal Society by her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), because women are not taken seriously as researchers. While he is giving a speech (written by his sister), Lily sneaks into the archives to find an ancient arrowhead, believed to provide the location of the magical tree.

Lily is not the only one interested in that artifact. Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) is a German royal who wants to help the war effort – and become immortal as well. This sets up the major hunt as Lily and MacGregor head to the Amazon River to find a captain to take them to the secret location. Joachim follows, in hopes they will lead him to it, too.

Arriving in Brazil, they mistakenly hire Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), who provides cheap tours of the river that are very similar to Disney’s attraction. There are fake dangers and Wolff’s puns (almost as hysterical as mine) along the way. He describes himself as the only skipper who can navigate the treacherous waters of the second longest river in the world, and Lily agrees to a discounted price for the mission.

The adventure begins with a submarine chase in the harbor, as Joachim becomes more obsessed with the arrowhead and the legendary tree. Showing some fancy moves with his old reliable boat, La Quila, Wolff leads them on an escape, while eliminating the fleet of the overbearing harbormaster Nilo Nemolato (Paul Giamatti – with a terrible sunburn).

Lily possesses an old river map, drawn by a talented cartographer, which she instructs Wolff to follow. He is unimpressed with the incredibly detailed document, insisting he knows the waters better. He eventually acquiesces to her plans, which leads them through a variety of incidents (some not as genuine as others). After they are captured by a group of cannibals (actually a group that works with Wolff), Trader Sam (Veronica Falcon) translates the arrowhead for Lily. She tells the group where to find the tree, but they only have two days until the Blood Moon that will show the petals that are so important.

Wolff is not what he seems, and Lily becomes more and more reluctant to trust him. Joachim unleashes the cursed conquistadors (who take the form of trees, bees and incredibly creepy snakes), and time is running out. Can Lily allow herself to trust the skipper to get them where they need to go without becoming another footnote to the legend?

To begin, the film is downright fun. The acting is superb. Blunt is truly wonderful and, in spite of trekking through jungle for days, is radiant with her classic beauty. One of the most versatile actors in today’s cinema, able to play almost anything, she carries the film with charm and charisma. Yes, I was smitten with her (along with the rest of the male audience), but she is equally smart and resourceful. A great character for young women to emulate.

Plemons is also excellent. He is over-the-top, but that is the character, an interesting contrast to the others on screen. Whitehall is funny, his desire for fashion and a skin regimen creating great comedic moments. Falcon also adds a level of humor and exposition that makes her character essential to the plot.

Dwayne Johnson is magnificent, too. He really has developed into a fine leading man who, like Blunt, carries the other side of the film wonderfully. The delivery of the puns was music to my ears (maybe someday I will retire and become a “skipper” down at Disney World), yet the action sequences are exciting and thrilling.

Much like the “Pirates” series, “Jungle Cruise” builds off the ride with a realistic fantasy (if that is even possible), and it will engage you for the entire 127 minutes. The PG-13 rating is fair, but the “creepy-crawlies” might get to some of the more squeamish viewers (conquistador leader Aguirre is made up of snakes). The innuendos are extremely intelligent and honestly very funny, despite being a Disney film. There is a 3D version out in theaters, with quite a few moments that make it worth the extra cost to see it that way (upping the icky factor).

It is a great cruise – and I’m not lion (it is a jaguar).

Much like a cruise that eventually comes to an end, unfortunately, this column brings to a close my time with the great Shaw Media group. As school begins next week and my college tennis season coaching is getting into full swing, my time has become a little more limited. I want to thank my wonderful editor for all her incredible work to make me sound better than I am.

Most of all, I would like to thank you, all the great readers of the Northwest Herald and its sister dailies. It has been a fantastic run over the last year and a half – and truly remarkable, not to mention extremely fun, to write for you every week. I will miss you, and hope to either see you in my class or get an email from you down the road. I can be found on the McHenry County College website or at jstockwell@mchenry.edu.

I leave you with what you should say if you find a cheap cruise price – that’s a good buy.

All my best and happy viewing!

• Jim Stockwell is a tenured instructor of film and broadcast journalism at McHenry County College, teaching Introduction to Film, Advanced Film and Introduction to Public Speaking.