By Ed Symkus
Unlike so many other sequels, you do not have to see Journey 2’s predecessor, the poorly made but money-making 2008 film Journey to the Center of the Earth in order to understand this one. Journey 2 carries on with the same suggestion that everything written by science fiction author Jules Verne was based on fact.
But if you’re not a Vernian (one who believes the above statement) or if you’re over the age of 10, you probably won’t be interested in either film.
Returning here is Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson), who’s grown a few years older and developed a heck of a bad attitude since a new guy – Hank Parsons (Dwayne Johnson) – has moved in with him and his single mom. Sean is the inquisitive kid who went way underground the first time around, has covered his bedroom walls with newspaper clippings of that past glory, along with a movie poster for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and is, yup, a Vernian.
So when he gets a puzzling radio message about an island out in the middle of nowhere, it takes only a minute or two for him to figure out that it’s Verne’s Mysterious Island, that it’s real, and that he must get to it.
It looks like this film is going to move along at a rapid clip. Suddenly, Sean and Hank, who weren’t even on speaking terms a moment ago, are sharing maps and charts and chatting about the Verne book and its “connections” to Treasure Island and Gulliver’s Travels, and then they’re off to the South Pacific, trying to find passage to a place that everyone says doesn’t exist.
Oh, that’s a graveyard for ships, says one guide. But that’s the deadliest part of the ocean, says another. Yet they manage to get onboard a beat-up old helicopter with greedy and goofy pilot Gabato (Luis Guzman) and his daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens), and head smack into a storm.
Hey! It’s a similarity between the movie and the book! Verne’s travelers were in a balloon when they encountered the storm that set them down on a little, uncharted island. There are other connections: a hand-cranked elevator, a volcano, one castaway having a good knowledge of science. There’s even one line of dialogue right from the book: “For every problem, there is a solution.”
But there are too many problems created by the film’s makers – from an overabundance of visual effects to an abandonment of that zippy pace, and a really preposterous storyline filled with ridiculous decisions and changes of heart by its characters.
Johnson, flashing a big smile and showing off his amazing physique (and using it to good comic effect in a 3D sequence that features him “popping his pecs”), is good in the part, but it’s hard to believe that his character would be so nice and understanding to someone as jerky as Sean. Michael Caine, as Sean’s long-lost grandfather (and Vernian), seems to have fun with his part, but it’s mostly reduced to a verbal sparring match with Johnson. The rest of the cast appears to be reading their dialogue from cards. And watch out, because some of it goes like this: One person says, “What was that?” Another answers, “A scary noise in a cave!”
The second Hank mentions that he doesn’t like lizards (think Indiana Jones announcing that he’s afraid of snakes) you just know that he’s going to meet up with a big lizard, one that chases everyone all over the place in what feels like a repeated loop. Same thing with the film’s biggest effect, a swarm of huge bees that don’t mind being ridden by people. The scene just goes on and on.
One thing Journey 2 has over Journey is that the producers forked over enough money to move away from the soundstage and do the filming in Hawaii. So there’s always spectacular mountain and jungle scenery. Too bad that it’s combined with silly Dr. Seuss-like production design.
Still, it’s better than the 1961 version that I saw in my childhood, young kids will like it, and we get the added bonus of The Rock – oops, sorry, Dwayne Johnson – picking up a ukulele and crooning an updated version of “What a Wonderful World.”