Film Review: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

Family-oriented fantasy finds five adventurers trapped on an island sinking into the South Pacific. Middling 3D outing updates Jules Verne with mixed results.

Even kids will be shaking their heads during Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, an amiable if daffy updating of a Jules Verne novel. This handsome yet weirdly small-scale film makes few demands and offers about as many surprises. Still, parents should feel at ease letting their children watch.

Journey 2 is a sequel of sorts to 2008's Journey to the Center of the Earth, although only Josh Hutcherson (playing Sean Anderson) returns from that cast. Having learned of his father's death in the previous film, Sean is now trying to find his long-lost grandfather Alexander (Michael Caine). Blocking Sean's efforts, briefly, is his new stepfather Hank (Dwayne Johnson), a Navy veteran and contractor.

But Hank is the key to breaking a coded message that suggests that Alexander is still alive. A map combined from three fantasy novels leads Sean and Hank to the South Pacific, where tour guide and helicopter pilot Gabato (a hard-working Luis Guzmán) agrees to fly them to the map's coordinates. Along for the ride is Gabato's beautiful daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens), who provides a spark of romance and some eye candy for bored dads.

Once the real journey is underway, catastrophes come one after the other. A hurricane destroys the helicopter, boulders turn out to be giant lizard eggs guarded by an angry mother, and Hank discovers that the entire island will sink under the ocean in a matter of hours. The explorers, joined by Alexander, must make their way across a dangerous landscape to a harbor that offers the only escape off the island.

"Laid-back" is not the way you want to describe a Jules Verne fantasy, but it's hard to work up a sweat over Journey 2's tame special effects and equally placid storyline. Yes, the characters all face conflicts—Sean doesn't like being disciplined by Hank, Kailani doesn't want Sean's attentions, Hank and Alexander don't get along, Gabato makes bad decisions to impress his daughter—but they are resolved effortlessly, just like the giant lizards and other menaces are too easily outwitted.

If Journey 2 seems too soft and easygoing, it may be due in part to Dwayne Johnson, who sings more than he fights here. Caine still exudes star power, but he seems a bit frail for this kind of adventure. Although sympathetic, Hutcherson can't keep up with either Hudgens or Guzmán, who walk away with their scenes.

Journey 2 isn't as ambitious as Journey to the Center of the Earth, but it also doesn't strain as much to entertain. Older viewers might see comparisons with the 1961 Mysterious Island, a film as equally fun and unfocused. If you want to fault Journey 2 for being too far-fetched, Verne's novel had just as much balderdash. Both film and book move quickly and slyly enough to skim over mere logic, at least until you are forced to admit that what's going on makes no sense.

When that point arrives—whether it’s the motorcycle chase that ends in a swimming pool, the bizarre sequence with honeybees, or the hundred-year-old sub in perfect working condition—will determine how much you enjoy Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.