What would happen if Maui had gone on living after the colonisation and destruction of the Pacific Islands and the natives’ way of life, and had found his way to the Amazon where he became a tour guide during the First World War? Possibly, but never specifically stated out loud, feeding European explorers to the jungle in a broken and hopeless attempt to avenge his people who were wiped out by venereal disease?
Well, probably a better movie than the one we got, that’s what. And fuck it, I’ve just decided I’m going to review that movie instead.
Strap in, fuckfaces. This will get dark.
Yes, it was back to the cinema again, for the whole Hatboy family this time, and I acknowledge that I’ve posted these reviews back to back so it’s confusing. Black Widow was a few weeks ago, Jungle Cruise was, like, last Friday.
This Friday, it’s The Suicide Squad! No, not Suicide Squad, The Suicide Squad!
Anyway, for a movie that is based on a Disney ride much like Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise was a real … emotional roller coaster? I mean, talk about a storm in a teacup. Really makes you wonder about what a small world-
Sorry. There were a lot of dad jokes in this movie. It was perhaps the only really funny part in it, actually.
Okay, the other only really funny part. I have titled this image “gutentagen-mein-junglfrendschen.jpg”, and I swear to fucking God I belly-laughed every time this bratwurst-sucking lederhosen-waving keisenheimer was on the screen.
Jungle Cruise, or at least the version of the movie I’ve decided to review, was a searing examination of the imperialism of yesteryear and the modern day alike, the fragile tiers of oppression and privilege our cultures are built on, the literal U-boat violation of nature and the reduction of a pristine and unspoiled culture to a cheap and nasty tourist attraction. It wasn’t even a metaphor.
Nevertheless, the preachiness was saved from being too on-the-nose by Rock “the Dwayne” Johnson’s remarkably subtle and soulful performance. Maui at his most sympathetic, and without the benefit of CGI animators, was really an astonishing surprise. The abandoned boy, elevated to Demigodhood, abandoned once more by the relentless march of time and “progress”, searching for a way to make it all better and getting it catastrophically wrong at every turn.
Maui (or Frank Wolff as he has pseudonym’d himself at the outset of this movie) was joined by an unlikely pair, in the intrepid and headstrong Doctor Lily Houghton and her brother MacGregor Houghton. Both of them are exactly the sort of people he would usually delight in feeding to the vengeful jungle, but for the fact that both characters reveal their own struggles – Lily being a woman in a man’s world, and MacGregor being a homosexual – and in doing so begin to open Wolff’s eyes and lift the red haze of hatred.
It’s a slow process – the movie is really long – and difficult in places as we have to face not only Wolff’s pain, and Lily’s, and MacGregor’s, but also acknowledge our own part in that pain, and our respective places in a history that is continuing to unfold. But as they continue up the river, in true homage to Heart of Darkness which should really be the source material that gets the credit once you take off the silly Disney-ride mask … yes, that’s when they all begin to face themselves, and so too does the audience.
The scene where Wolff tries to tell Lily not to interfere with his boat’s boiler, my God. He dresses it up as pointless “don’t touch my car” machismo at first, because he doesn’t know her. But then (and this was the almost-mid-movie twist that made me think of From Dusk Till Dawn…) she opens the furnace to reveal the squalling lava-creature that is all that’s left of Maui’s world … Te Fiti long since gone, and even Te Kā reduced to just another of Frank Wolff’s sorrowfully amusing little sidekicks, helping him grift through the shadow of a life in the modern world.
It broke my heart. It broke my fucking heart.
This theme, of the well-meaning and also-oppressed heroes peeling back layers and finding more and more of the horrible truth as they continue their quest, comes to its painful conclusion when Lily finally sneaks into Wolff’s forbidden cabin and finds his notes, his books, the preserved scraps of plants and forlorn models of Maui’s earlier boats, the shattered pieces of his magical fish hook, and she realises she and her brother are in the presence of a beautiful myth – a myth that is in the process of being ground into the dirt by the march of progress.
With the Tree of Life’s magical flowers, Maui thought he could turn back the clock and put the horrors back into Pandora’s box. But he’d come to realise, over the centuries, that this was one thing the petals could not fix. Because progress was a feature, not a bug. It wasn’t a curse, or a wound. It was the pain of a world outgrowing itself.
And so, in the absence of a childish fix-all, all he had left was vengeance and hate. He became Frank Wolff, not even really trying to hide his villainy. Until he meets Lily and MacGregor, and realises that change is never easy, and that instead of railing against inevitability – instead of punishing the cogs in the machine – it’s possible to find another way. To fight where it will do good to fight, and to adapt where fighting will just add to the evil in the world, and to lift up those who are being pushed down alongside you.
Also, and I can’t stress this enough, there’s a German U-boat and it’s fucking hysterical.
I give Jungle Cruise a Jungle Cruise that actually exists out of a possible Jungle Cruise that I just wrote a review of.