Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is a sequel to 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D, and like the original is very loosely based on the titular Jules Verne novel. In fact, the catch is that in these movies Verne’s trailblazing sci-fi novels are treated as factual. But unlike the first movie this is a Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson family movie, so don’t expect to see Brendan Fraser, star of the original. Also, don’t expect it to be very good.
Still, if you haven’t seen the first movie it does take a few minutes to figure out the characters here, especially since Sean (Josh Hutcherson) is the only one returning from the original. Sean is a super-genius, yet angst-ridden teenager (one who is apparently old enough to get a wrist tattoo and a motorcycle license but young enough to be threatened with juvenile hall) who refuses to accept Hank (Johnson) as his new stepfather, no matter how kindly he is or how hard to tries to connect with Sean. The movie alternates between the two being on good terms and bad, but it’s a family movie so you know how this story goes. They initially bond over a message from Sean’s grandfather, Alexander, which he broadcasted with Morse code to Sean. The two use Jeff Goldblum Independence Day-style logic (fast… another word for fast is swift… Jonathan Swift!) to discover that Alexander, Sean’s grandfather, has found the mysterious island of Jules Verne’s titular book.
The island is near Palau, where Sean and Hank charter a helicopter flown by Gabato (Luis Guzman), who brings along his daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens). Gabato is the film’s comedic relief, but is not only exactly the type of guy you’d never charter a helicopter ride from but also exactly the type of guy that you’d never take on any sort of dangerous journey. His lighthearted moments are absurdly silly, and I wondered why Guzman, who is so very good in P.T. Anderson‘s movies and Steven Soderbergh‘s movies, ends up doing a lot more of these “comedy” roles instead. Hudgens, who plays the smart, sassy girl who Sean is immediately taken with, seems to have been cast because she could visually conceivably pass for Guzman’s daughter. She’s pretty enough and peppy enough for a role like this, but since it’s essentially the token girlfriend-to-be role that’s not really a compliment.
After an action scene we finally meet Alexander, a sort-of elderly Indiana Jones who immediately starts acting like a jerk to Hank for reasons that aren’t clear. Alexander is an otherwise likable character and, since he’s played by Michael Caine, who has spent the last decade generally playing likable characters, it’s a bit hard to take his put-downs seriously. The group discovers the ruins of Atlantis (and find a ruin that spells it out in ENGLISH, believe it or not), but something about the island isn’t quite what it seems.
After that it’s action scene, bonding scene, action scene between the five characters. Every time an expert is needed for a particular puzzle or a tricky bit of exposition someone steps up to the task and gets it done. In particular, Hank, who was formerly in the Navy, seems to have learned every possible facet of that service, from knowing how quickly an island can sink and how to recharge 140 year old batteries. The action scenes take full advantage of the 3D effects (although there is some of the usual 3D stupidity too, naturally), but I constantly wonder how movies like this — which have huge budgets — end up looking so fake. It seems as budgets get higher, filmmakers constantly try to raise the action stakes, but in movies like this the action sequences end up being not only unbelievable, but undecipherable. Director Brad Peyton made his feature directorial debut on Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, so anything is likely a step up for him. If there’s anyone to blame here, it’s writers Mark and Brian Gunn (Bring it On Again, MTV’s 2gether), who have written a script that is so generic I have to wonder why they were hired to rewrite an adventure movie script when they have no experience with that genre. Action movies, even if they’re family films, don’t need to be bogged down with endless dialogue and exposition, especially when so much of that dialogue is either the usual action “let’s move!” lines or misfired attempts at one-liners.
Yes, I know this movie is aimed at kids, but frankly I’m not even sure kids would even enjoy this movie any more than a movie you’ll find on a cable TV channel on a Saturday afternoon. So while the end result is more-or-less a giant cheeseball of family cinema that amounts to more empty calories than the popcorn at the concession stand, it certainly isn’t worth the 3D premium ticket price or, even worse, the IMAX 3D ticket price. I’m going to guess that your kids would enjoy The Goonies much more.
Rating: There will be MUCH better movies starring Dwayne Johnson and Michael Caine this year… save your money for them! (3/10)