Jungle Cruise is not a great movie, but you can’t deny the fact that, about 30 minutes into it, Jesse Plemons emerges from a U-boat in the middle of the Amazon river and shouts “Hallöchen” at Emily Blunt and The Rock. This brings up a lot of questions: Can you really pilot a U-boat that deep into the Amazon? If this movie is set in 1916, isn’t sending one to the middle of South America kind of a waste of Germany’s navy? Finally, and most importantly, why is Jesse Plemons talking like that?
If you were to try to apply any thematic meaning to the film Jungle Cruise, aside from “Disney wanted to make money off another theme park ride,” it might be that nature towers above all human comprehension and enacts its own magical will. (That’s what I took from the big glowy tree that Blunt and The Rock discover.) Anyway, the same is also true of Plemons’s accent in Jungle Cruise, because the more you think about it, the less it makes any sense. His character’s name is Joachim (pronounced like an American trying to tell you how to say “Gouda” in Dutch, incorrectly) and he’s supposedly related to the Kaiser. He spends the movie chasing down Emily Blunt, because he’s also heard tell of the big, magical glowy tree that she wants to find in the Amazon, and wants to use it to help the German war effort, or something.
At this point it’s worth mentioning that, like Wonder Woman before it, Jungle Cruise is set during World War I, but treats it basically as if it has the same dynamics as World War II. The British heroes are good, and the Germans are very bad. It’s as if Disney knew that it wanted to crib from an adventure movie like Indiana Jones, but also told the seven credited writers of Jungle Cruise that it would be unwise to directly involve Nazis in a four-quadrant family picture. Plemons has the straw-blond hair and over-the-top affect of an actor who has decided to play the stereotypical German villain role anyway (his wave as he emerges from the river is not quite a salute, but also not-not a salute), so let’s just say the semiotics of the film are confused.
Not to be a stickler about further historical accuracy, but it’s also weird to ponder the fact that Prince Joachim has really dedicated his time to boating around the Amazon, while Germany had fairly limited colonial involvement in South America, and a much larger hand in the colonization of Africa. The original Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland travels between simulations of several different river ecosystems, so at some point in the film development process, they must have narrowed things down to the Amazon, but kept the concept of a German villain. The same goes for Paul Giamatti’s wild turn as a scheming Italian owner of a bunch of boats (again, Italy did not have much of a footprint in the Amazon, but was in Africa), though of course it is hard to fault any film for having scenes where Paul Giamatti does an over-the-top Italian accent.
The true origin of Jesse Plemons’s accent probably isn’t historical, anyway. In one scene, he keeps trying to say the word “jungle” and it comes out as “chongle,” which has to be a joke about the way that Werner Herzog says “the chongle is murder”: Jungle Cruise also references Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God, as Édgar Ramírez’s character is literally a conquistador named Aguirre. He’s been stuck in the Jungle for the last few centuries due to a curse, but kept a Castilian Spanish accent through all of it. (SPOILER: Unlike The Rock, who’s revealed to also be a cursed Spaniard, but who has somehow adopted a neutral American voice over the centuries.) (SECOND SPOILER: Also Emily Blunt’s brother, played by Jack Whitehall, reveals himself to be gay and does sort of a prissy, posh British gay voice that is both representation, I guess, and annoying; this is neither here nor there, but I just wanted to mention it to be thorough about the accents.) So after wandering through the jungle of my confusion over Plemons’s German accent, my best guess is that he’s doing it because they thought it would be a funny film joke.
To cap it all off, Jesse Plemons isn’t even in that much of Jungle Cruise. Once Blunt and The Rock head further into the Amazon away from him, the film pivots to making Ramírez more of a central villain, while Prince Joachim only occasionally grumbles about everything happening from his U-boat. In one scene, he communicates with one of Aguirre’s henchmen through bees (long story short: due to the curse, one of Aguirre’s henchmen is now made of bees). I can say pretty certainly that the cinematic high point of Jungle Cruise is Jesse Plemons yelling at bees with a wild German accent. He’s an actor who’s best known for performances that tend toward a complex interiority (see: I’m Thinking of Ending Things, the seasons of Friday Night Lights where Landry doesn’t kill someone) so, at the very least, it’s delightful to see him cut loose and, you know, yell at bees. I assume bee yelling will not be happening in Killers of the Flower Moon, but if that’s part of Martin Scorsese’s vision, who am I to question him?