This is the third theme park attraction that Disney have turned into a movie, and so far the results have been mixed. The first Pirates of the Caribbean is a fun action thriller that took a simple ride and layered in a story of curses, zombies and benefited from Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow, who stole the whole show. Unfortunately, they milked that cow dry with a series of disappointing sequels, and eventually even Sparrow’s charm started to wear thin. Thankfully, we only got one outing of Eddie Murphy’s Haunted Mansion movie, which is dull and lacks all the gleeful macabre humour of the ride.
This movie is based on a slow ride that I love, mainly because the “skippers” provide a commentary of puns and dad jokes. And with Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt in the leads we looked like we were on to a winner. But then it was announced that Jack Whitehall was due to appear. As a gay character. I was worried we were going to see the stereotype of a prissy, cowardly queen come back, and it seemed as though you could have the coward, out of his depth character without making him gay. In fact, unless him being gay impacted the plot, why was his sexuality being brought in? And why hire a straight actor? Especially Whitehall, who’s hit and miss.
Also, news of a supernatural plot suggested we might be in Pirates of the Caribbean ripoff territory. But then I saw the first trailer and it reminded me of The Mummy, a movie I absolutely adore, so I was hopeful going in.
Thankfully, The Mummy comparison pays off and we get a fast, fun and silly adventure with a swaggering hero in Frank (Johnson) and a strong, smart female lead for him to spark off in Lily (Blunt). Whitehall is Macgregor, Lily’s brother who joins her in her attempt to locate the Tears of the Moon, a legendary tree with magical healing properties, which some conquistadors tried to steal, but suffered the curse of being trapped forever, unable to die or leave sight of the Amazon river.
Lily has got her hands on the arrowhead stone, which should help activate the tree, and a map, but as a woman in the 1910s, has no respect or standing. Her brother joins her and they hire Frank, who runs jungle cruises where he entertains his passengers with fake threats and a string of groan inducing gags. Also on the hunt for the tree is Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), a German royal who wants it to rise to glory and power, and who revives the cursed conquistadors, now half-man, half-jungle creatures to track down the explorers.
Here’s the thing, the plot is action-fantasy silliness and the characters aren’t fantastically done, but this is a movie that gets by on keeping thing moving and the easy charisma of its actors. Plemons is delightful as the unhinged royal, hamming it up to entertaining effect. Whitehall as the fish-out-of-water posh boy does well, and is continuously amusing, clicking with the other players well.
But it’s the two leads who make it. Johnson by now is firmly established as possibly the best action star of the last ten-fifteen years, and his easy, natural charisma is captivating and his delivery of the bad jokes makes Frank a likeable, roguish type. Blunt has set herself up well too, and delivers a fine performance as a strong willed and courageous woman who is hampered by sexism, but rises above it. Their sparky interplay is a delight and while not quite up there with Fraser and Weiscz, is still damn watchable and engaging.
The sexuality question is downplayed, although does get a touching reveal and serve as a solid background as to why Macgregor would follow his sister to the jungle he clearly isn’t prepared for or keen for. It’s just a shame that once again Disney include a gay character without including any kind of love story. Couldn’t we have had Macgregor fall for an Amazonian beefcake?
The plot’s fast and gripping, the magic element works and the main characters are all well played. It’s not quite up there with The Mummy but it’s still a very enjoyable family action flick and entertaining. Let’s just not bludgeon the good will to death with endless, inferior sequels, yeah?
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.