In “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”, the Rock plays a ukulele and sings around a campfire, Vanessa Hudgens spends the entire film in short-shorts and a skimpy tank top, and Michael Caine does his version of an amusing goofy old man. And in-between those three things, the characters trek around a Disney-esque amusement park ala the titular mysterious island, run from giant animals trying to eat them, a volcano that spits out gold ashes, and an impending flood that will surely kill them all. Suffice it to say, “Journey 2” is a kids movie waiting to be turned into a Disney style amusement park, complete with giant bee rides. Now, consider the previous sentences, and you should be able to figure out if this is the kind of movie you might want to spend your hard-earned money on. If you still insist on paying good money to see it, though, don’t come to me with yer bitchin’.
Josh Hutcherson, who will probably not be able to play a “high school kid” for very much longer, takes over the “Journey” franchise from Brendan Fraser by reprising his role of Sean from 2008’s surprise hit “Journey to the Center of the Earth”. But since Sean is technically still a kid, he can’t be traipsing around exotic locales by his little lonesome, so Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson joins the franchise as Hank, Sean’s stepfather. Ol Hank and Sean don’t quite get along, but when Sean’s adventuring grandfather (Michael Caine) sends the lad an encrypted message and location to his whereabouts, Hank takes the opportunity to accompany the kid to locate the missing old timer as a way to bond. Along the way, they pick up starving tour entrepreneur Gabato (Luis Guzman) and his fetching daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens).
The group finds the titular mysterious island in short order. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they end up trapped on said island. It seems getting on the island was the easy part, it’s the getting off part that’s gonna take some doing. Sean locates his grandfather, and together, the group sets about escaping the island before it’s swallowed back down by the Pacific Ocean. An event, we’re told, that takes place every 100 years or so. And gosh darn the luck, that’s just a few days away! It’s Screenwriting 101 — give the protagonists something to race against. After all, you can’t have the group just casually walking around the mysterious island discovering its many wonders, can you? Sure, the first few times they encounter a miniature elephant or flee a giant ant would be fun, but after a while it’s going to get pretty derivative.
“Journey 2” will no doubt appeal to bookworms who grew up on reading adventure stories from guys like Jonathan Swift and Jules Verne. Mind you, I’m not saying that the film is a very faithful adaptation of those two men’s works, but it falls in the same “grand adventure and discovery” category, where the point of the story is more about getting there and discovering what awaits. “Journey 2” certainly has that part of it down, and as previously mentioned, the film oftentimes feels like an amusement park ride waiting to be realized. It’s not as if anyone is ever really in any danger, and you never once think the gang won’t escape the doomed island. Fantasy story mainstays like Nemo and Atlantis make appearances, though these aren’t explored all that much except as a means of plot progression.
“Journey 2” is a kids adventure movie, and I suspect your nieces and nephews will get the most kick out of it. Star Josh Hutcherson, who can soon be seen battling murderous teenagers in “The Hunger Games”, is going to pretty quickly outgrow teenager roles, though curiously his co-star Vanessa Hudgens, who is actually four years older, should be able to convincingly play a teenager for a few more years. There is a perfunctory male bonding aspect of “Journey 2” between Sean and stepdad Hank, but honestly, that’s not all that important. Dwayne Johnson is charming and witty, and his back-and-forth with Michael Caine is pretty amusing. Luis Guzman is the film’s designated comic relief, and he should keep the kids giggling, and maybe have the adults rolling their eyes once or twice.
Brad Peyton directs “Journey 2” like a man who knows the spectacle is the thing, and all that family bonding stuff is secondary (or possibly third). Peyton’s career is not exactly littered with classics (“Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore”, anyone?), but he does keep the film moving at a nice pace, throwing a new “Wow” sequence on the screen every 10 minutes or so to keep things from ever becoming dull. The point is, if you’re paying money to see this and you don’t have kids (or nephews or nieces), characters riding on the backs of giant airborne bees and controlling them like they’re some kind of furry airplanes should not strike you as either odd or ludicrous. You should also get a good chuckle out of the Rock thinking he can solve any problems with his manly pecs and Luis Guzman getting drenched in various liquids of questionable origin.
Brad Peyton (director) / Mark Gunn, Richard Outten, Brian Gunn (screenplay), Jules Verne (novel)
CAST: Dwayne Johnson … Hank
Michael Caine … Alexander
Josh Hutcherson … Sean
Luis Guzmán … Gabato
Vanessa Hudgens … Kailani
Kristin Davis … Liz