Journey 2: The Mysterious Island – 3 Buckets

February 9, 2012 by  

Dwayne Johnson, Luis Guzman, Vanessa Hudgens, Josh Hutcherson, and Michael Caine star in JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND.Attempting to further cash in on 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, the monster hit that ushered in the resurgence of live-action 3-D, Warner Bros. has brought back Josh Hutcherson’s teen protagonist to star in another very loose adaptation of a Jules Verne classic. Of course, presumably the only reason they kept Hutcherson was so they could justify the preservation of the franchise title—does the word Journey really sell tickets by itself?—because he is no less bland than usual here, and every other piece of the equation has changed. (Well, except for the fact that it’s still in 3-D – no big studio could resist the opportunity to charge moviegoers more.) Instead of an uncle played by Brendan Fraser joining Hutcherson on his journey, it’s a stepdad played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. And now that Hutcherson is of age, there is also a love interest (Vanessa Hudgens) and her comic relief-attempting father (Luis Guzmán).

But the fact that Journey 2 was conceived as such a commodity only makes its artistic achievements more impressive. Whereas Journey to the Center of the Earth was made solely as an opportunity to showcase brand-new 3-D effects—which I’m sure would look amateurish now, just three years later—this film is a handsomely constructed family entertainment. The key to director Brad Peyton’s success is that he doesn’t overindulge anything; Hutcherson is in transit to the titular island just minutes after learning of it, for instance. This ensures that the obligatory kiddie shtick doesn’t dominate the proceedings – even a particularly silly sequence in which Johnson repeatedly performs a trick with his buff chest muscles is tolerable because it’s over before you know it. (The same goes for Luis Guzmán’s usual dummy theatrics.) Peyton and editor David Rennie’s breezy cutting also makes the film’s climax, in which the characters jumpstart a submarine battery using an electric eel, as rousing as could be – they are appropriately more concerned with orchestrating the tension of the sequence than overemphasizing the cool imagery.

Making Journey 2 more of an ensemble effort than its predecessor was also a wise move by the new screenwriters, Brian and Mark Gunn, primarily because it opens the franchise up to lively performances. Needless to say, Johnson boasts more charisma as an action movie star than Fraser has in his left pinky. Even though the role is one-dimensional, Johnson is able to give it gusto. Michael Caine also shows up as Hutcherson’s grandfather, the explorer who alerted him to the existence of the mysterious island, and he is as likable as ever. Hudgens is basically used as set-dressing, but she doesn’t embarrass herself and looks good in the process. Fused with the tropical sights of Hawaii (alas, they didn’t find the real mysterious island) and Peyton’s quality filmmaking, the cast make for terrific company over a fun, albeit forgettable adventure.

* * *

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012, USA). Produced by Michael Bostick, Adam Ellison, Beau Flynn, Charlotte Huggins, Evan Turner, Tripp Vinson, and Marcus Viscidi. Directed by Brad Peyton. Written for the screen by Brian and Mark Gunn. Story by Richard Outten, Brian Gunn, and Mark Gunn. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Josh Hutcherson, Luis Guzmán, Vanessa Hudgens, and Kristin Davis. Distributed by Warner Bros. Rated PG, with a running time of 94 minutes.