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When I first heard about Journey 2: The Mysterious Island a few months back (on what was a very cartoony-looking poster in a movie theater), I had no idea what it was supposed to be a sequel to. I thought to myself “I’ve pretty much seen every The Rock movie there is, and I definitely don’t remember a Journey 1.” After a cursory glance on the internet, I remembered there had once been a movie, way back in the summer of 2008, called Journey to the Center of the Earth, and it starred Brendan Fraser. I almost immediately remembered seeing commercials for it, and maybe walking past a screening or two on my way to see Iron Man or The Dark Knight. But I have almost no memory of it otherwise. Although Journey 1 grossed over a hundred million dollars, I have never, ever heard anyone talk about it, let alone confess to even liking it somewhat. I have still never even seen it (though honestly, I’d kinda like to). So, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island begs a particular question: Why make a sequel to a movie that nobody really loved in the first place? Let’s explore Journey 2 from the inside-out and see if maybe we can answer this question.
Perhaps the best thing going for Journey 2 is that it stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Replacing Fraser (who I generally like in silly movies like this, but who has not anchored a hit in years) was probably a good idea to drum up audience interest, if not business. The Rock is on a recent roll, having starred in one of 2011’s biggest hits in Fast Five. He’s no stranger to silly action movies either, and his electrifying charisma shines through in Journey 2. The Rock knows how to carry himself through a movie like this, and his performance is a lot of fun. He’s also the whole I reason I even saw this movie in the first place, so there’s that too.
Josh Hutcherson reprises his role as the somewhat precocious kid from Journey 1, but since I haven’t seen the first movie I can’t really comment on whether or not he’s grown from the first film to the sequel. He’s just fine here. He doesn’t detract from the film at all. Michael Caine, Luis Guzman, and Vanessa Hudgens are also along for the ride. Caine is, like Hutcherson, just fine. He’s clearly in it for the paycheck and that’s cool with me (he’s earned the right). Guzman hams it up as helicopter pilot Gabato, and again he is totally acceptable, if not occasionally irritating. Hudgens is eye-candy (now that she’s no longer property of the Disney corporation I guess she can embrace her good looks or something). Her performance is adequate, but her character is sorely under-developed.
The story is a complete trifle, mixing elements of the Indiana Jones features (giant bugs, dark caves, lost cities and such) with the National Treasure franchise (hidden clues, ciphers, secret symbols and whatnot). It’s a total non-entity, really. In short, Hank (The Rock) marries divorced mother Liz (Kristin Davis, in a very minor role) and in order to bond with his new stepson Sean (Hutcherson), they go off on a wild adventure to find the titular mysterious island. They meet up with Guzman’s helicopter pilot, who runs a small touring company with his daughter on the island of Palau. They make way to the mysterious island by flying directly into a hurricane (probably not a good idea).
Once on the island they discover Sean’s grandfather Alexander (Caine), and then attempt to get off the dangerous island and return home, thus rescuing the shipwrecked Alexander. Our small group of heroes, led alternately by Hutcherson, The Rock, and Caine depending on who is momentarily in the spotlight, jumps, runs, and crawls from action set-piece to action set-piece until the day is saved and whatnot. Again, it’s a total trifle, definitely cliched, but also acceptable for this kind of movie. There are a few eye-rollingly lame moments, but it’s hard to hold that against what is such a silly movie in the first place.
The special effects are appropriately goofy and a bit of fun, especially in 3D (we saw this on the IMAX screens as well, which probably heightened the experience somewhat). I normally would be hesitant to praise an annoyingly CGI-heavy film like this, but I take the entire thing as fantasy and sci-fi adventure, so I’m more willing to forgive it. The budget for Journey 2 was almost refreshingly low (something like 79 million according to most sources). It obviously doesn’t look as good as something like Avatar or anything, but there’s a certain charm in its bright color palette and silly art design. It should be noted that some of the underwater effects are actually really well done (including a giant electric eel who is noticeably creepy).
In the end nobody really asked for this sequel, but I’m kinda glad it exists and that I went to see it on the big screen. It’s a big, dumb, fun movie of the type that comes around every once in a while and just succeeds at being entertaining. I don’t feel like I wasted my time watching this at all. Journey 2 is competently made, and that’s about all that can be said of it really. I don’t regret seeing this movie, even if it is a silly, illogical, effects heavy thing that’s more about action set-pieces than character or story.