You know you’re in for something odd when the commercials proudly show Dwayne Johnson bouncing a berry off his chest in the most gratuitous of 3D effects. What’s worse is when you find out this is actually the most entertaining scene of the whole movie. While for the most part the film is harmless, especially for kids, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island suffers from a lack of decent dialogue, gaping plot holes that nearly anyone can point out, and the reliance of its 3D and CG environments to carry the lightweight story.
The story begins with Sean (Josh Hutcherson) grounded after having broken into a satellite facility to help him decode a strange ham radio message (and subsequently destroying some of his neighbors’ property in the process…our hero, ladies and gentlemen!). With the help of his caring stepfather Hank (Dwayne Johnson), they discover the message is from Sean’s grandfather Alexander (Michael Caine), who has found the real Mysterious Island from the same-titled Jules Verne novel. Taken to the island by desperate-for-business helicopter pilot Gabato and his daughter Kailani (Luis Guzmán and Vanessa Hudgens), they find a strange world of natural oddities and hidden dangers, as well as Alexander, who has built himself a tree house the Swiss Family Robinson would be proud of. However, things take a decidedly more urgent turn when the scheduled 140-year cycle of the island sinking into the ocean (you may insert your “Pardon?” here) is happening more quickly than expected, and everyone has to escape before there’s no more island to stand on.
Let’s face it: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making a kiddie-friendly movie based on the adventure tales of Jules Verne. Even with the liberties taken, what’s here should be good fun and when it comes to the 3D and the island itself, it’s certainly eye-catching. But that’s just it…when the movie has to move away from the bee rides, lizard chases, and giant electric eel attacks, it suffers. After some clunky exposition between Hank and Sean’s mother Liz (Kristin Davis, essentially a cameo appearance), the story mainly revolves around Sean and Hank’s issues, those issues mainly Sean being an unlikeable jerk to Hank, who does nothing but bend over backwards to be nice to practically everyone and everything for the film’s runtime. In fact, that’s a majority of the movie’s problem…Sean is supposed to be the hero, but really, Hank carries the film on his sizeable shoulders while everyone around him is at turns goofy, rude, standoffish, or condescending. What little chemistry that exists between Sean and Kailani is dwarfed in comparison to the relation between Gabato and Hank. Guzmán is intentionally supposed to be the obnoxious comic relief, but perhaps to his credit, he’s far more likeable and genial than most of the cast. All things considered, I’d be more than happy to see the two of them appear in an installment in the series by themselves; they’re the only ones that are worth watching.
The other major problem…or really, problems…are the leaps of logic that can easily be ignored by kids, but most of the adults will be questioning them. Setting aside the idea that an island that routinely sinks and rises has anything living on it (let alone giant bees and tiny elephants), there’s probably more than one parent who would question the wisdom of taking a teenager who just broke the law on a plane flight to the island on Palau for a “bonding experience.” While it’s wonderful the writers found a way to work in Gulliver’s Travels and Treasure Island into the film, that the books contain the clues necessary to find the island is absurd in both an obscure (check the publication dates of the three books) and obvious way (nobody noticed those coordinates?). I would mention the cell phone battery that lasts for several days with no electricity, but then, when we see what Hank does with a battery from the 19th-century, that one suddenly doesn’t seem so farfetched.
If you’re willing to suspend your disbelief…and I mean REALLY suspend…and can get through some of the cringe-inducing exchanges, you’ll probably get a kick out of the flying bees, the 3D jump scares, and lush environments. However, the promise of true spectacle seems squandered. This is Verne’s spirit re-imagined by a fourteen-year-old hipster, and while well-intentioned, it feels like Journey 2:The Mysterious Island could’ve and should’ve been a lot better than it turned out. Well, at least there’s a few laughs to be had when Johnson “pops his pecs,” though I’m still wondering if I laughed out of hilarity or disbelief.