You’ve never seen a film like this before. Emily Blunt plays Lily Houghton, an archaeologist or botanist or doctor or something, who believes in stealing priceless artefacts from museums. But in a twist I did not see coming: she’s a good guy! This artefact is supposed to be the key to the Lost Ark of the Amazon, which is really a magical tree that can cure the flu, win wars, save mankind, and help kill undead pirate mummies (more on this later).

Anyway, she and her brother Jon Carnahan (I don’t think I caught his name, but that one sounds familiar), who is bravely defined by his homosexuality, go off in search of this world-saving treasure. I couldn’t figure out why her brother was coming along. Something about his homosexuality meant he would go with his sister everywhere. I think this part of the plot was too advanced for me.

Along the way, they recruit help from a rapscallion pirate named Frank Sparrow, who absolutely cannot be trusted despite his seemingly kind and fun personality. (Frank is played by Dwayne Johnson, and you wouldn’t even recognize him in this. Total transformation.) He takes them on his dilapidated boat, called the African Queen or something, and promises that they won’t survive the trip. There are winding waterways, and rapids, and he has such a little boat.

Anyway, you’ve never rapids like this — especially not one with such a dilapidated little steam boat. Frank even has to kick the engine to get it going! Like I said, this is a strong original character.

To make this even more complicated, the Germans are after this treasure too, because they think the world-healing properties of it will help them win the war. These Germans will stop at nothing. They even bring a submarine, which is an interesting choice for a river expedition, but a choice that matched this film well.

Now, if you’re not sold, the kicker is this: there are supernatural elements at play here. The treasure is responsible for cursing some undead mummy pirates, and it turns out that Frank is one of them! They’ve been locked in a battle with each other for, you know, a really long time, but they can’t kill each other and they cannot die without this tree thing. (The tree giveth life, and conveniently, the tree also taketh away life. This is a very complicated film. You know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous.)

Now, these mummy pirates have to stay within visible sight of the river. To be honest, at this point, I wasn’t able to keep up with the plot — it’s so intricate! — so I couldn’t quite tell you why they weren’t able to leave the river. I really hope Disney explores this mythology further in a sequel, but since they so rarely make sequels, my hopes may be dashed.

Anyway, the archaeologist botanist doctor girl and her poor innocent brother don’t see any of this coming — who could have predicted undead mummy pirates on a river cruise like this? And you won’t be prepared either, because like I said, you’ve never seen anything like this before.

Oh! I’ve been so excited to recap the story that I nearly forgot about the more technical elements of the film. This is a gorgeous film. It’s orange in some scenes, and like a wintery blue in other scenes — a colour palette I’ve never seen before in a movie. Inventive, original cinematography all around. And the special effects — wow! The CGI is positively unbelievable. To be clear: these are the best special effects you’ve seen since the 2020 hit film /​classic, Mulan. You’ll be nothing less than fully immersed.

Despite being the biggest moneymaker in Hollywood for decades, Disney continues to make groundbreaking, innovative movies like this. A lesser company would use high-concept adventures like this as a way to create pseudo-reboots of their own existing franchises. They might even add popular songs, like Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters,” as a way to represent historical quests in the Amazon. They might even start skimping out on the special effects, thinking that audiences don’t particularly care about how good the effects are, so long as they are modestly entertained.

But the creative team behind this piece of genius wouldn’t even think about stooping that low. I was amazed at how much genuine respect the filmmakers had for their audience.

A true masterpiece.

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