Here we are again with another (Jules) Vernian tale of lore that actually makes excellent use of the 3-D tech available. That’s 2 - 0 for this franchise and practically unheard of in the realm of family-friendly movies, and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is a worthy follow up to 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, which grossed $242 million worldwide and also made (rare) excellent use of 3-D effects as an integral part of the story itself. Interestingly enough, it was also one of the very first movies to hail from this current (and prolonged) 3-D phase, most of which has merely been filled with nonsensical, gimmicky cash grabs. But with Journey 2, 3-D is fun again, and I say that as a terribly harsh (and mostly fed-up) critic of Hollywood’s current use of the technology. Naturally, Journey 2 is also equally as preposterous as its predecessor, so don’t even bother to suspend disbelief. Just leave that shit at home.
Here’s the lowdown: Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson, who has grown up a lot since the first installment) is the lone character left from the first film; he has recently been uprooted from his home in Dayton and resents the living hell out of his stepdad, Hank (Dwayne Johnson, replacing the uncle portrayed by Brendan Fraser’s hairpiece), who is ex-Navy and well versed in breaking codes and lots of useful, well, Navy stuff. Mom (Kristin Davis) wants nothing more than for her two guys to get along, so The Rock helps Sean decipher a satellite message (that Sean has acquired through slightly illicit means) sent in morse code. Together, they realize the code speaks mostly of Vernian lore, which causes Sean to realize that it could possibly be his lost grandfather sending the message. Further piecing together of the code refers the pair to coordinates of the legendary Mysterious Island in the middle of the South Pacific. Soon, Sean and The Rock are within helicopter distance of the coordinates and hire a dodgy pilot named Gabato (Luis Guzman, doing the requisite goofy comic relief bit) and his daughter, Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens), to fly them the rest of the way. Naturally, they are hit by cyclones and wipe out on the beach of an island that is truly a spectacle for the eyes.
This Mysterious Island isn’t merely based upon the Vernian novel of the same name but also borrows heavily from Treasure Island and takes a few cues from Gulliver’s Travels. So it’s essentially three books in one, but from the latter, there’s really only the island biology theory at work; that is, the small animals become big, and the big animals become small (i.e., Lilliputian baby elephants). Sean’s grandpa, Alexander Anderson (Michael Caine), finally shows up at the right moment, and we witness the group being chased by a giant lizard (which is a bit scary for the young kidlets) and riding atop fuzzy bees to escape a massive bird. They also encounter the Lost City of Atlantis and search for Captain Nemo’s submarine while avoiding a giant electric eel. Of course, there’s several more fantastical happenings that occur as well, but I shall not spoil it all. Altogether, it’s an adventure that is mindless as hell, but it’s also quite harmless as well.
Naturally, the entire experience is a bonding one for Sean and his stepdad (awww), and The Rock’s charisma allows him to get away with things that other actors couldn’t ever dream of doing on the big screen. For example, he sings his own personalized version of “What A Wonderful World” around the campfire. Truly, he’s like a serenading Sasquatch. Then again, I’m fairly certain that the screenwriters did not intend for The Rock’s cover of Louis Armstrong’s song to carry any of the political intonations that it’s gathered in recent decades. Still, it’s charming when The Rock does it, and it’s similarly allowable when The Rock bounces berries off his pecs. Try not to surrender to it, I dare you.
Essentially, Dwayne Johnson has still got it, and by “it,” I’m not merely being superficial by referring to his ability to encourage spontaneous cinematic impregnation (as evidenced by his “Pep Pop of Love”) but also because the man has finally found his niche. In Journey 2, his inherent goofiness blends seamlessly with his taste for action. He’s not embarrassing himself in a tutu (The Tooth Fairy) and he’s not engaging within a misguided attempt at seriousness (Faster). Here, one gets the feeling that Johnson is mostly playing himself, and his shtick is impossible to ignore. As for the rest of the cast — we’d all like to see Michael Caine in something with a lot more substance, but the man’s gotta pay bills, so we’ll forgive him for taking a paycheck to exchange verbal barbs with The Rock. As for Hudgens? She’s merely eye candy. Josh Hutcherson is one to watch though, and I’m not even referring to the third movie that this franchise has already optimistically set up within this movie’s postscript.
Where Journey 2 is concerned, if you liked the first movie, then this one will be just as pleasurable an experience. And you can feel confident enough to shell out for the 3-D surcharge. For once (or twice now), it’s actually worth it.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.