It’s the exact right kind of dumb and fun.
On some level, this movie seemed like the perfect film for Dwayne Johnson, because much of this movie feels similar to the adventure horror-comedy film The Mummy and Johnson’s first film was The Mummy Returns. Admittedly, he probably wants us to forget that because of the horrible CGI Scorpion King in that movie, but it still feels good to see The Rock take on the role of the adventurer for this film. He’s funny, he’s quirky, he’s quippy, he’s charming, and, as a bonus, he looks like he could benchpress the boat on which most of the film takes place. He’s everything you want in a protagonist in this kind of story.
Johnson plays Frank Wolff, a skipper who does tourist trips along the Amazon River which are replete with terrible puns and bad jokes. He owes money to local harbormaster Nilo (Paul Giamatti), which leads him to offer his services to Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), a botanist searching for a flower that cures all disease. Lily, along with her brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), are being pursued by the German Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who seeks to use the cure-all to help Germany win World War I. Unfortunately for Frank and Lily, it turns out that the flower is also connected to the conquest of Don Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez), who is not quite as dead as you’d expect for someone born in the 1500s. This will be the real rumble in the jungle.
As much as I love Johnson and his willingness to deliver absolutely terrible jokes with a straight face, I also have to give a lot of credit in this film to Emily Blunt. Unlike most “strong” female protagonists in these kinds of films that end up devolving into damsels in distress, Blunt’s portrayal of Lily starts as being extremely competent and mostly maintains that throughout the film. She often has to rely on Frank for some things, because of his expertise at piloting the boat and surviving in the jungle, but even when the film seems like she’s going to end up being the helpless victim, it actually gives her a consistent level of skills that enable her to get out of trouble on her own. Blunt’s chemistry with Johnson is also great, although their relationship develops at a bit of an inconsistent pace. Actually, pacing is pretty much the biggest negative in the film on the whole.
Other positives in the film include Whitehall’s fun portrayal of MacGregor, one of the first openly gay main characters in a Disney film, and Veronica Falcon’s portrayal of Trader Sam, the character that probably aged the worst from the original ride. The updating of Sam’s character was done organically enough that hopefully it won’t anger people who believe that nostalgia has to consist of being fed the same thing repeatedly. The creature designs in the film, while not the best CGI I’ve seen, are very creative, particularly the undead conquistadors. Jesse Plemons, as he usually does, plays a creepy villainous character that seems completely unhinged most of the time.
Overall, if you like fun adventure movies, this will be right up your alley.