A film review by Craig J. Koban February 23, 2012


2012, PG-13, 94 mins.


Hank: Dwayne Johnson / Alexander: Michael Caine / Sean: Josh Hutcherson / Kailani: Vanessa Hudgens / Gabato Luis Guzman

Directed by Brad Peyton / Written by Brian and Mark Gunn


Yes, yes...it's true, I did give 2008’s JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 3D a positive – albeit half-hearted – review.  

Those that were expecting it to be a literal translation of the classic Jules Verne book of the same name should have given their collective heads a shake (the “3D” part of the title should have been a dead giveaway).  The film existed less to appease purists of its iconic literary antecedent and more as an amusement park ride experience to usher in its three-dimensional artifice, which predated AVATAR by several months.  JOURNEY 3D was a nonsensically silly film, but it was as advertised: a considerable amount of stupid, lively, and lightweight fun.  

Now comes the inevitable – if not somewhat wholly unnecessary – sequel that continues the previous entry’s eye-stabbing 3D spectacle and its innocuously capricious edge, but this time minus Brendan Fraser (who, due to scheduling conflicts, was unable to appear in the sequel).  Like the first film, though, JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (how clever…the word “to” is replaced by the number “2”) is loosely – make that ever-so-loosely - based on the story and ideas of Jules Verne, but this time it also deals with the writings of two other literary titans, Robert Lewis Stevenson and Jonathon Swift.  This go around, the characters engage on a quest to a “mysterious” island that directly influenced the writings of TREASURE ISLAND, GULLIVER’S TRAVELS, and Verne’s MYSTERIOUS ISLAND.  

Wait…those books were not fiction?!  No way! 

The stand-in for Brendan Fraser this time around is The Rock himself, Dwayne Johnson, an actor that, like Fraser, is extremely likeable and not afraid to self-deprecatingly mock his own action star façade.  Johnson plays Hank, new stepfather to JOURNEY 1’s Sean, played again by Josh Hutcherson, whose performances in films like BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA and THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT showed him to be a naturally poised and understated actor; to be fair, he’s slumming it quite a bit to appear again in this series.  It seems that Sean received a coded satellite message from his explorer grandfather (played gamely by Michael Caine, at least as much as this material allows) that may have come from a mythical island that Sean has become obsessed with.  Of course, it’s revealed in some clunky expositional dialogue that Hank used to be in the Navy, which allows him the convenient ability to decode the message for Sean. 

Hank and Sean, nonetheless, are not a tightly knit step-father and son pair, but Hank makes an effort to finally bond with his increasingly moody and petulant step-child by agreeing to finance and come along with him on his journey to the island (which will be charted and located based on coordinates and clues left in the coded transmission).  The two travel to Palau and seek suitable transportation to get to the island: they meet a bumbling helicopter pilot named Gabato (played by Luis Guzman, which means he’ll be in full-on bumbling mode) and his daughter, the curvy and very easy on the eyes Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens) who more or less facilitates Sean’s - and most male viewers’ – desire to have a hot Polynesian babe in a midriff-exposing tank top and short shorts.  Father and daughter agree to transport Sean and Hank to the island, after much finagling. 

Of course, all four of them do indeed fined the mysterious island after having their helicopter sucked through a giant portal in the ocean.  It is a scenic place of natural beauties and wonders, but nonetheless is topsy-turvy in terms of its eco systems (large animals, like elephants, are the size of small dogs and insects are the size of cars, not to mention that it has active volcanoes, waterfalls, lush forests, and plant life that most definitely could not all exist on one lone island).  When the foursome does manage to hook up with Sean’s grandfather, it’s later discovered that the island is going through some disturbing seismic and geological changes, which will probably mean the end of their lives if they remain there for more than a few days.  As a result, they will have to secure new transportation off the island, but in the process they'll will have to evade bus-sized lizards, birds, and other dangerous creatures.  

Hmmm…I wonder if Captain Nemo parked his submarine anywhere nearby? 

JOURNEY 2, as far as family films go, is pleasant, agreeably entertaining, and inoffensively enjoyable at times, largely because newcomers to the series like Caine and Johnson are such amiable actors that it’s hard to dislike them.  Johnson in particular proves that he is a very good sport in outlandish films likes this, which requires him to be the alpha male of the group while, at the same time, sending up his image as just such a man.  Johnson is a hulking physical presence, but he also has good comic timing.  Just consider this – he has to demonstrate, at one point, to Sean how to impress girls by flexing your pecs so hard that nuts will ricochet off of them (and right out at you in 3D!), but he also grabs the ukulele at one point during an intimate fireside chat and begins an amusing version of “It’s A Wonderful World.”  There are not too many performers that can match Johnson’s unique marriage of Herculean physicality and unbridled goofiness.  

Like the previous entry, JOURNEY 2 is full of colorfully spirited visual and 3D effects that further highlight why these films exist purely as feast for the eyes.  The actual 3D in the film is refreshingly crisp and cleanly delineated and is designed for maximum, in-your-face impact (again, the 3D here is not used for subtle accentuation, but for those ostentatious wow moments).  Director Brad Peyton wisely shot the film in brightly lit, candy-colored vistas and open spaces, which lends itself better for the dimmer and oftentimes murkier palette of 3D.  More often than not, JOURNEY 2 makes good use of its environments and utilizes its three-dimensionality to its fullest boundaries.  

JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND does suffer from some nagging faults, like its themes of family strife and the characters of Sean and Hank coming together through the collective ordeal of their quest comes off as artificially as the film’s effects.  Guzman is a funny actor, but he seems to mostly squander his talent here as the crying, screaming, and overly anxious simpleton role.  Hudgens is, no doubt, a natural beauty with ample assets on display here, but she too is saddled with a perfunctory love interest/eye candy/damsel role that requires very little out of her.  The film is also littered with pseudo-scientific-mumbo-jumbo lines that drew large, unintentional laughter from me, like when Hank declares, at one point, “It looks like the liquefaction has tripled overnight!”  Ouch.  How he managed to stay in character and keep a straight face is a testament to his acting abilities..  

It’s not that JOURNEY 2 isn’t preposterous and unpretentious fun; it’s just that I can’t totally recommend it as required viewing.  If you’ve seen the first film than there’s no real reason to see this sequel, especially for the expensive surcharged 3D ticket price.  It’s a modestly enjoyable diversion, but a forgettable and disposable one at that.  And speaking of disposable, the Looney Tunes short DAFFY'S RHAPSODY that preceded the film is done with CG animation and a lot of frenetic 3D gimmicks.  Is it just me, or does that not seem disingenuous to the glories of the original 2D hand painted Warner Brothers shorts of old?

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