Disney has officially greenlit Jungle Cruise 2, but the sequel must avoid repeating the same mistake with The Rock that they did with Pirates of the Caribbean and Johnny Depp. Receiving a simultaneous release in theatres and on Disney+, Jungle Cruise struggled financially amid the pandemic but proved popular with audiences. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt are confirmed to reprise their roles in the sequel, with Jaume Collet-Serra reportedly returning to direct.
Jungle Cruise is the latest of Disney’s attempts to transform theme park rides into movies, continuing the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, and Tower of Terror. The film follows steamboat captain Frank Wolff (Johnson) as he reluctantly guides Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt) and her brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) along the Amazon River. During their journey, they are attacked by cursed Conquistadors and a rival German expedition spearheaded by Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons).
By the end of the film, Frank and Lily develop a romance and he returns with her to London. Meanwhile, MacGregor’s comments suggest Lily took the Tears of the Last Moon petal back home, although what became of the petal and its mysterious healing properties is unknown. While this leaves room to expand the story in Jungle Cruise 2, the sequel must be careful not to rely solely on its star power. Pirates of the Caribbean’s sequels increasingly hinged on Depp’s iconic performance as Jack Sparrow, using his charm to detract from cracks in the franchise’s storytelling and undermine its supporting characters.
Jungle Cruise had two key selling points – the amiable odd-couple dynamic of Blunt and Johnson, and the novelty of recreating the Disneyland attraction onscreen. While trailers promised a daring adventure, Jungle Cruise‘s story effectively copied Pirates of the Caribbean, 1999’s The Mummy, and Indiana Jones. This was one of the film’s most criticized aspects, meaning Jungle Cruise 2 must craft a more compelling narrative that doesn’t rely heavily on The Rock delivering dad jokes. Disney encountered this problem before but never seized the opportunity to rectify its mistake. Johnny Depp’s Oscar nomination for Jack Sparrow was well-deserved, but the sequels became increasingly dependent on his eccentric persona to excuse weak scripts. There were early signs in the first two sequels, even if the overall story still boasted memorable characters and some bold plot turns. The same can’t be said for the later entries, especially Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, which was riddled with plot holes and failed to develop its characters.
Jungle Cruise already left several unanswered questions, but the sequel needn’t suffer the same fate. Disney will obviously use Johnson’s star power to attract viewers, but they need to place greater faith in their premise. Pirates of the Caribbean crafted sequels by exploring nautical legends and fleshing out references from the first film. Each movie in the series held the potential to be a great blockbuster if it weren’t for an overemphasis on connecting everything to Jack Sparrow and placing him in wacky situations to provide comic relief. Tying events to Jack’s past was initially exciting but gradually grew tiresome. Meanwhile, the backstory of Frank’s curse was intriguing but underexplored, and his relationship with the villains was glossed over. The film ends with Frank’s boat, La Quila, destroyed, closing his career as a showman in the Amazon, leaving doubt as to what his purpose will be in Jungle Cruise 2.
Disney’s new franchise can expand on its characters and explore more jungle myths, with Johnson lending support to a worthwhile adventure. Jack Sparrow is compelling, but he wasn’t the heart of the first Pirates of the Caribbean, which boasts several characters audiences wanted to spend more time with. Jungle Cruise 2 must earn its place by crafting a world that’s larger than The Rock.