Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Jungle Cruise is a breezy swashbuckling adventure that delivers audiences an enjoyable dose of Indiana Jones Lite crossed with The Mummy 2.0. But we really shouldn’t be surprised by that. Johnson, Hollywood’s best rendition of a throwback butts-in-seats populist movie star, has quietly turned the wilderness into his big screen bread and butter. To date, he’s starred in five films where he does battle with the forces of otherworldly nature, all primarily set within jungles: The Rundown (2003), Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012), Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017), Jumanji: The Next Level (2019), and Jungle Cruise (2021).
In an age where shared cinematic universes are all the rage (see: MCU, Star Wars, DCEU, SPUMC, Fast & Furious, The Conjuring, etc.), Johnson has committed a lot of time, energy and resources into this successful sub-genre. Even though these five films belong to various studios, we’ve come up with an in-depth explanation that links them all in the same continuity. (Shoutout to Jon Negroni’s The Pixar Theory for the inspiration.)
The aim of this theory is twofold: 1) unearth unique connections between The Rock’s jungle-themed resume whether through overt associations or a bit of imaginative mental gymnastics and 2) have fun.
Warning: The following contains spoilers
Frank Wolff: The Rainforest Soldier
Jungle Cruise takes place in 1916 at the height of World War I. The film follows Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) as she travels to South America to scour the Amazon river (which just so happens to run through Brazil, more on that later) for the Tears of the Moon, a mythical tree whose petals are rumored to cure all diseases and heal all injuries.
Throughout the course of the film, we learn that Frank Wolff (Johnson) was actually born Francisco Lopez de Heredia and is one of the cursed conquistadors unable to die or leave the river. He’s been alive for more than 400 years, putting his birth likely sometime in the early 1500s. His immortality is the first step to The Rock’s Jungle Cinematic Universe.
But wait, you shout, wasn’t Frank’s curse lifted at the end of the movie? Yes, you’re correct. You win a digital cookie: .
We know that the Tears of the Moon can be accessed again during a blood moon (lunar eclipse) and we know that there are surviving members of the local tribe whose descendants carry knowledge of the mythical tree.
We believe that Frank lived out a happy life with Lily that restored his connection to humanity and his desire to experience all it has to offer. After her peaceful passing at an old age, Frank went back to the Amazon to become immortal again (without the geographic restrictions this time) and help to watch over this world. He is the hero, after all.
The Board Awakens
In the original 1995 Jumanji, we learn in the opening scene that the board game was buried in 1869, 100 years before Alan Parrish (Robin Williams) found it.
We know from Francisco’s cartography, sketches and news clippings in Jungle Cruise that he was a talented, creative and intellectually curious man with a whole lot of downtime. (I get antsy on my morning commute. How was this guy not driven insane from centuries of boredom?) Who better to create the Jumanji board game at some point in his earthly purgatory during the 16th-19th centuries than a nigh-immortal being who possesses intimate experience with the mystical beasts of the Amazon and residual magic coursing through his veins?
This is where the Jumanji board game draws its power from, particularly since we’re assuming he created it during a blood moon when the Tree is in full bloom. Its ability to manifest creations in the real world stems from Francisco’s original curse. We’ll come back to this soon.
Beck v Stiffler: Dawn of the Gato
The Rundown follows Beck (Johnson), a retrieval expert, which is really just a polite way of saying bounty hunter. Tired of this identity, he agrees to one last job before getting out: retrieving his boss’ son Travis (Sean William Scott) from the small mining town of, wait for it, El Dorado in Brazil.
El Dorado is the legendary city of gold sought after by 16th century Spanish explorers, which aligns with Francisco’s background. Travis is after a missing golden artifact called “O Gato do Diabo” (The Devil’s Cat). Coincidence? I think not.
It makes perfect sense that Johnson’s character would accept this last job, believing his intimate familiarity with the region from his Jungle Cruise life would make for an easy final gig. (Leave it to Stiffler to throw a wrench in that plan.)
After procuring the artifact, rebel leader Mariana (Rosario Dawson) warns Beck not to “flirt with El Gato do Diabo’s eyes.” She speaks of the legends connected to the Gato and its innate magical powers, including the myth that once restored to its rightful owners “the rivers will run deep” (more on that later). Mariana doesn’t believe in any of that hocus pocus, but what if it’s real?
My theory is that when Beck looked into the eyes of Gato, it imbued him with the magic of a cat’s nine lives. But since he was already immortal, the magic enabled him to exist in multiple planes of reality simultaneously, which explains some of the time overlap between the Jungle Cinematic Universe’s major nexus points.
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
Hank: A Side Story
The Rundown takes place in 2003 while Journey 2: The Mysterious Island takes place roughly one decade later. In his new life as Hank, a former Navy codebreaker, our hero has finally gotten out of the bounty hunter world and is living with a wife and step son.
It’s more than possible that Francisco spent time as a Navy codebreaker during the 20th Century, which helps to explain how the Jumanji board game is able to magically turn itself into a video game in 1996. The game itself shares a psychic link with its creator. We’ll cover this more in a bit.
Our theory can also help explain Hank’s uncanny ability to deal with exotic locations and strange beasts, such as giant frilled lizards and massive bees as well as submerged landmasses and wild jungles. Hank is just another of Francisco’s many aliases. Centuries of adventures have turned this seemingly normal step-dad into the ultimate adaptable badass. Screw PTA meetings and soccer practice, this dude is outrunning volcanic eruptions in his spare time. I don’t think your friendly neighborhood dentist dad could pull that off.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Xander: Age of Bravestone
In 1996, teenager Alex Vreeke is given the Jumanji board game, which was previously buried by Alan Parrish and Sarah Whittle (Bonnie Hunt) after the original film, and rediscovered at the beach by Alex’s father.
The board game mysteriously transforms into a video game cartridge overnight, which we have now explained via Francisco’s increasing technological prowess and his magical connection to Jumanji after modeling it on his own adventures through the Amazon. This would also help explain why there’s an avatar of Francisco within the video game model. Jumanji can’t help but project its origins even as it develops and evolves through the years. Its cast of colorful characters is likely based on the friends and enemies Francisco encountered throughout his long life. But, much like the magic Arrowhead in Jungle Cruise, he has struggled to track it down throughout his long life after it initially left his possession.
His video game equivalent, Dr. Xander Bravestone, is described as a strong, confident archaeologist and explorer. Sounds a lot like an immortal conquistador we know. Even his running gag nickname, “Smolder,” is in line with Frank’s Dad Joke sense of humor.
Importantly, this is a virtual recreation, which means that Franciso’s corporal form is still out there after Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. This leaves room for further “real world” entires in The Rock’s Jungle Cinematic Universe.
Jumanji: The Next Level
Mother Nature Strikes Back
Taking place around one year after the previous film, The Next Level provides further proof for our grand unifying theory.
After our hero’s adventures with the Gato in The Rundown 15 years earlier within the JCU timeline, it should come as no surprise that The Next Level revolves around the Falcon Heart, another magical animal-themed artifact that can help stop the horrible drought in Jumanji. Sounds a lot like the Gato’s mythic ability to replenish the rivers, no? Again, the magical Jumanji is akin to an artificial intelligence that learns and evolves as it goes. Of course it would incorporate elements of its creator’s real life into the gameplay.
In a mid-credits scene, the world of Jumanji begins to bleed into the real world with a group of ostriches running through town. Our theory is that the magic of El Dorado from The Rundown runs counter to the magic of Atlantis, which Hank travels to in The Mysterious Island, which disrupts the delicate multiverse Francisco exists in.
We’re sure a future entry in the JCU will help to explain how this magic-on-the-fritz issue is resolved.
Observation Points is a semi-regular discussion of key details in our culture.