Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is a follow on to the 2008 worldwide hit “Journey to the Center of the Earth” which starred Brendan Fraser. In this one, Fraser has been unceremoniously replaced by former WWE star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson who plays shunned step-dad Hank Parsons to spoiled Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson).
As Hank desperately searches for a way to connect with his uncooperative step-son, an unexpected opportunity arises in the form of a mysterious coded distress signal that Sean receives and needs help deciphering. Hank puts his days in the Navy to good use and cracks the code for Sean with relative ease (this is not his only talent he’s retained as he proves later on in the film). In need of a ride to a mysterious island (coordinates provided by message) they enlist helicopter pilot Gabato (Luiz Guzman) and his strong-willed and moody daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens) to get them there. After a very stormy, eventful flight, they eventually reach their destination, stumble across Sean’s grandfather (Michael Caine) and begin a fun adventure. A fun adventure, I fear, that’s not intended for adult viewers.
The one thing that adults (and kids) will certainly commend, however, is the beautiful CGI realm dreamed up for this forgotten island. It is full of vibrant, luscious colors, housing a topsy-turvy world where everything big becomes small and vice versa. Things, like lizards, that we take for granted and see as being mostly harmless suddenly became predators in their giant form. Also, I never thought I’d see the day when an elephant could be described as cute, but within the first few minutes of our protagonists arriving on the uncharted isle a herd of adorable miniature elephants ran past. Giant bees proved themselves to be very useful when the group had no other method of getting up a steep mountain (although how they managed to steer them remains unclear).
The plot was unsurprisingly non-surprising. The plot points were there, but they had been done to the death already in other films of similar nature. There was also an inordinate amount of annoying conveniences — elements put in place solely to further the plot along to predetermined outcomes. One such example was when the adventurers realized that Sean’s grandpa had inaccurately predicted the date of when the mystical island was due to sink. It turned out to be far sooner than he expected, in fact, only a few short hours away!
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island does have its share of comedic moments, with most of them being delivered by Guzman and, quite surprisingly, by ‘The Rock’ himself. Johnson, it turns out, is full of charisma and has a natural comedic presence about him. His infamous “popping of the pecks” party trick, which no doubt viewers will have seen in the trailer, is prominently used (unfortunately, this got pushed too far after the fifth or sixth time of it being repeated). There was also a few chuckles to be had from the dynamic between Johnson and Caine (I bet you never expected to see those two as a comedy double act!). And showing off yet another string to his bow, Johnson demonstrated a softer side to his persona when he gives a bizarre and randomly unnecessary rendition of ‘What a Wonderful World’ whilst sitting around a camp fire.
Others, like Sean and Kailani, do not fare so well. Their lack of warmth made them un-endearing and the “will they, won’t they” theme running throughout the film was completely uninspiring. It’s clear that Kailani was intended to be received as an independent, headstrong character but she just came across as petulant and emotionally distant. Therefore it begged disbelief, when, halfway through the movie, she suddenly developed a heart and preached to Sean that having a dad who cares too much is better than one who doesn’t care at all.
Nowadays, highlighting how difficult it can be for a new partner to be accepted by their new partner’s children and how important familial relationships are is an admirable moral to espouse. Too bad it was done so clumsily and required a fair amount of digging to uncover. After all, considering the amount of work involved, it shouldn’t have been upstaged so easily by Johnson’s popping pecks.
Ultimately, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island has all the necessary ingredients for the recipe for a perfect kid’s film (bugs, colors, silliness, fast action). The odd moments to keep the adults entertained are far too few and not particularly good (Caine riding a giant bee is a highlight?) though. Basically, it’s a visually stunning throwaway.