Journey 2 could have become part of a weird little adventure genre of movies like National Treasure and The Librarian, instead it squanders its premise and never rises above being just another big, unfunny 3D children’s film.
At its outset though, I found myself completely on-board with premise of the film: Sean (Josh Hutcherson) and his grandfather (Michael Caine) are Vernians – explorers and scholars who believe that the stories of Jules Verne are based in reality. No one has heard from the grandfather for a couple of years, until Sean intercepts a coded message (morse code via character names from Jules Vern tales) from his grandfather saying that he has found Verne’s Mysterious Island (which turns out to also be the same island Johnathan Swift and Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about in Gulliver’s Travels and Treasure Island). Sean intensely dislikes his stepfather Hank (Dwayne Johnson), but the ex-Naval officer helps him crack the code and find the island. Their expedition there draws in a helicopter tour operator (Luis Guzman) and his daughter (Vanessa Hudgens), all of whom end up stranded on the Mysterious Island with Sean’s grandfather. Also, Atlantis comes into the picture at one point (Atlantis is always awesome).
It’s ridiculous (and completely ignores the fact that Swift was writing social satire), but Journey 2: The Mysterious Island could have made for a fun family adventure if it weren’t for the terrible writing and character development. Guzman plays a man embarrassingly overdrawn and his relationship with his daughter is as unforgivably trite as it is cliched. Sean spends far too much of the film whining about how Hank treats him like a child and there’s no reason for Hudgens’ reasonably responsible young woman to fall for him. Sean and his grandfather (whom Caine plays as delightfully manic but also as an extreme asshole) also spend too much of the film making fun of Hank’s intelligence, despite the fact that Hank is an award-winning Naval codebreaker who’s almost singularly responsible for Sean finding the place. Johnson tries really hard to be the solid stepfather figure of the story and might have been able to pull it off under better direction and with a stronger script.
On the topic of the script – which just tries far too hard on every angle – take a moment to experience some of its brighter gems:
“I’m still confused at who gave him a speaking part.”
“I am a scientific explorer.”
“It’s Jules Verne, man. You’ve gotta believe!”
“It had to be a lizard. Why couldn’t it be snakes?”
“We’ll have all the wealth we’ll ever need – as long as we’re together.”
As for the film’s use of 3D, there really isn’t anything there. There are a few times when it is put to use beautifully, as when Sean and Hank must swim around under the island to find Nemo’s Nautilus. In those underwater scenes, the 3D really adds to the sense of depth and suspension on-screen. A few of the fantastic creatures (like the miniature elephants and giant lizard) also have a lovely depth and texture in the format. For the rest of the film, however, the 3D is used primarily for cheap gags like bouncing berries off Johnson’s “Pec Pops of Love” and back at the camera. In a scene where the adventurers ride giant bees, the 3D only makes it more apparent that the actors are working in front of a green screen.
Journey 2 is not a terrible film. I came out more exasperatedly bemused than angry. It works too hard at being a sentimental family film and the constant stream of “jokes” mostly falls flat, but young adventurers will enjoy it. There are enough neat things and interesting visuals going on to keep children entertained and, just maybe, get them curious about the source texts. Hopefully, they won’t be too disappointed by the lack of giant birds pooping on people in Jules Verne’s books.