This is going to sound crazy, but when I originally saw the trailer for Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, I had no idea it was a sequel to 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth. Perhaps I would have known this had I been aware of Jules Verne’s novel Mysterious Island, but apart from my days as an English major and a brief binge on Stephen King and J.K. Rowling, I’ve never been much of a reader. I definitely prefer movies; apart from the general absence of exposition, the stories are literally visualized. Indeed, there’s much visualization at work in Journey 2, with heavy emphasis on exotic locations, fantastic creatures, and dynamic action sequences. There’s also the fact that the film is presented in 3D, as most films are nowadays. Not much is gained from the experience, apart from some gimmicky moments of things flying directly at the camera.
But I’m not saying anything I haven’t said a thousand times before. There are, in fact, only two sequences in which the 3D effects felt immersive, and fortunately, both take place on the titular island. One is an aerial pursuit that plays like a World War II dogfight on steroids. The other takes place in an underwater cave. I’ve noted in several reviews how underwater shots actually look better in 3D than those in open air. I haven’t quite figured out why this is. My theory is that the textural density of water fills every square inch of the screen, allowing for all the visuals to envelop you. Above water, you have only specific objects to focus your attention on, making total immersion difficult. The only genre more ideally suited for 3D than fantasy is animation; perhaps the filmmakers should have gone ahead and rendered the entire film on a computer.
Like its predecessor, Journey 2 does not literally translate any work by Jules Verne. Instead, it uses them as a springboard for an original story, which this time around incorporates elements from Robert Louis Stevenson and Jonathan Swift. It’s also like its predecessor in that it’s a largely forgettable family film that has moments of likeability. It has a decent enough cast and an adequate plot for younger audiences, although there are moments that made me wish the cast and crew had tried just a little harder. I wasn’t particularly impressed with its sense of humor, which is at times jarringly inconsistent with the film’s adventurous tone. I also didn’t care much for the casting of Luis Guzman, who spends the entire film being buffoonish comedy relief. Believe me when I say that his irritating character gets old real fast.
The plot involves Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson), now a rebellious teenager, receiving a radio message encoded with words and character names from the novels of Verne, Stevenson, and Swift. There to help him decode the message is his new stepfather, Hank Parsons (Dwayne Johnson), a former Navy officer. This character serves as a replacement for Sean’s uncle Trevor, played in the previous film by Brendan Fraser. His absence is not explained, but never mind. The message purports that the mysterious island of Verne’s story is real, and that the same location is described in Treasure Island and Gulliver’s Travels. Sean and Hank collect the three books and tear out the pages with maps of what appear to be three separate islands. When placed one on top of another, they form one complete map. They even provide coordinates.
Sean believes that his long lost grandfather has found the island, and that he’s responsible for sending the encrypted message. He’s determined to find the island himself, despite the fact that the coordinates point to an area where an island doesn’t appear to exist. Hank is willing to indulge, if only to give the two a chance to bond. They travel to the South Pacific island of Palau, and charter a helicopter flight with a local named Gabato (Guzman) and his daughter, Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens). The sudden appearance of a freak hurricane reminds Sean that they must go directly through its eye. And so, after a near-fatal freefall through a flurry of wind and rain, the four passengers come to on the shores of the Mysterious Island, also known as Atlantis. It’s a place where elephants are as small as cats, bees are as humongous as Cessnas, and the central volcano spews gold instead of lava.
Lo and behold, they soon cross paths with Sean’s grandfather Alexander (Michael Caine), a jungle adventurer of the Saturday matinee serial variety. He and Hank will spend most of the film bickering. Sean will repeatedly try to hit on Kailani. Hank will try to give Sean some advice about women, including the importance of flexing your pecs. And Gabato will constantly make a fool out of himself. When Hank realizes that the island is only days away from sinking due to tectonic plate shifting, they all make a mad dash for the outer cliffs, for hidden within an underwater cave is their only means of escape. I will not reveal what it is. I will say that, like everything else about Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, it’s kind of clever but mostly just preposterous. I suppose I had no reason to expect anything different, although I still think the filmmakers could have tried for a little more.
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