It began with a tweet. New York Times reporter Kyle Buchanan, who profiled Jesse Plemons in 2020, shared a quote from the actor in May about his upcoming role in Jungle Cruise. “God, I really went for it with that one,” Plemons said. “We’ll see what happens. It’s as big as I’m capable of being.” Now, Plemons’s involvement in Jungle Cruise wasn’t exactly a secret—he’d already appeared briefly in early teasers for the film. But there wasn’t much evidence to suggest that Plemons was doing anything too out of the ordinary, especially when most of the lead-up to the film was focused on the oddball pairing of Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. (To be fair, it is weird to see Mary Poppins 2.0 flirting with the Rock.)
Then, in that same month, came the new Jungle Cruise trailer. Once again, Plemons is barely featured, but in the three seconds audiences were blessed with, his character opens the hatch of a U-boat in the middle of the Amazon, waves at the two protagonists, and shouts “Hallöchen!” in an over-the-top German accent before firing a torpedo at their boat. It’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen:
These three seconds were all that was needed for Jungle Cruise to go from being a run-of-the-mill summer blockbuster to one of the most anticipated movies of the year. (Just don’t tell Vin Diesel.) And considering how much the actor was clearly hamming it up, the hope was that Disney was withholding as much as possible in the trailers so that viewers would get the full German Jesse Plemons experience in all its glory.
After having now seen Jungle Cruise, there’s good and bad news for the Plemons-heads of the world (who I’m sure number in the millions). The bad news is that Plemons is criminally underutilized as the film’s main villain, German aristocrat Prince Joachim, with most of the action following Johnson, Blunt, and Jack Whitehall (playing Blunt’s brother) bickering their way through the Amazon. The good news is, as is often the case when Plemons takes on a supporting role—see: The Ringer’s previous blogs on the actor’s scene-stealing exploits in El Camino and Judas and the Black Messiah—he easily outshines the comparatively smaller spotlight afforded to him.
The grassroots campaign for a German Jesse Plemons spinoff film begins NOW.
For a movie that tries to capture the spirit of classic adventure flicks from multiple decades—including The African Queen, the 1999 version of The Mummy, and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise—Jungle Cruise feels most indebted to Raiders of the Lost Ark. In kind, Plemons’s villain channels the inquisitive nature of René Belloq, Indiana Jones’s rival archaeologist working on behalf of the Nazis, as he searches for the Tears of the Moon, a legendary Amazonian flower with supposedly magical healing properties. But Joachim’s determination to find the Tears of the Moon also brings to mind Raiders’ sadistic Gestapo agent Arnold Toht, since the Prince’s endgame is to use the flower to give Germany a leg up in the Great War, and he isn’t afraid to take out anybody who gets in his way. (Jungle Cruise takes place in 1916, though it’s just as easy to imagine Joachim in Nazi Germany.) Plemons is extremely unsettling as Joachim, a ball of goofy menace who ensures that a generation will grow up thinking of him as That Creepy German Dude.
The other and perhaps most notable thing Joachim shares with Belloq and Toht is that they’re all played by native English speakers employing cartoonish accents, which is a chaotic good. What Plemons does with Prince Joachim’s voice I can only attempt to describe as “Christoph Waltz as Werner Herzog in a Werner Herzog biopic going off the rails.” And those Herzog-like affectations seem intentional, seeing as the secondary villain of the movie—a zombified conquistador with snakes crawling through his skin, played by Edgar Ramírez—is called Aguirre, the name of the German filmmaker’s 1972 historical epic. Time is a flat circle, buzzing around like a swarm of bees helping a German aristocrat navigate the Amazon.
Yes, that’s right: Within the tragically limited screen time afforded to Prince Joachim, he spends a surprising amount of it communicating with bees while pointing at a map. (The bees are an extension of one of Aguirre’s men, who appears to have melded with a hive in his disheveled zombie state.) Any actor could make a scene shared with a bunch of bees come off as weird, but Plemons turns it into inspired performance art—it’s frighteningly difficult to tell if talking to a bunch of bees has slowly made the character lose his mind, or if he lost it long ago. Nevertheless, the Academy needs to create a new acting category—Most Convincing Performance Asking CGI Insects for Directions in a Submarine Control Room—and hand the inaugural award to Jesse Plemons.
That Plemons went this big, as promised, makes it all the more unfortunate that Prince Joachim has precious little to do in Jungle Cruise; the film barely scratches the surface of the characters’ batshit potential. And so, of course, it would be prudent for Disney to find a way to engineer a Prince Joachim prequel, since a continuation of Jungle Cruise would prove difficult on account of his being crushed by a giant rock (not his costar, an actual boulder). I can already see it: a young Prince Joachim (still played by Plemons; don’t fix what ain’t broke) traversing a post–Gold Rush California in search of a mystical treasure. Throw in Jungle Cruise’s similarly underutilized Nilo Nemolato (the god Paul Giamatti), one of those classic Italian harbormasters in the heart of the Amazon you’re always hearing about, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: The Movie is a slam dunk.
With Plemons set to feature in new films from Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog) and Martin Scorsese (Killers of the Flower Moon) in the next two years, he’s solidifying his place as one of Hollywood’s most valuable and versatile actors. Landry Clarke is all grown up, and whether he’s talking to bees in the Amazon, questioning the profitability of three-for-one Frito Lay deals, or thinking of ending things, he’s going to leave viewers craving more. Filmmakers need to learn from Jungle Cruise’s fatal mistake, and don’t leave us hanging after one hallöchen.