Dwayne Johnson as Hank Parsons
Josh Hutcherson as Sean Anderson
Vanessa Hudgens as Kailani
Michael Caine as Alexander Anderson
Luis Guzmán as Gabato
Kristin Davis as Liz Anderson
I’ve probably said this before but whimsy is really, really easy to butcher. It’s like grasping smoke out of the air, difficult for either the filmmaker or the audience to hold onto. And since, in the world of mass entertainment, it is generally aimed at the young by people who are not young, the odds of a horrible accident taking place whenever it is attempted go up tremendously. Which is why whimsy in kids films should be treated like the Hidenberg, but also filled with dynamite and ‘DO NOT TOUCH EVER’ written on the sides in big red letters.
The makers of “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” did not heed that warning.
A few years ago, young single parent scion Sean (Josh Hutcherson) took part in an incredible adventure as he and his uncle discovered that the works of Jules Verne were real, beginning with a Journey to the Center of the Earth.’ Zip forward a few years and Sean has become a dedicated Vernian, connecting with other like minds around the world and utterly ignoring his new stepfather’s (Dwayne Johnson) attempts to bond with him. So, doing what stepfathers since time immemorial have done, he helps Josh decode a message from around the globe to humor him. Before you can say literally unbelievable plot point’ the pair of them have travelled to the South Pacific, strapped themselves to a rickety helicopter, and crashed on “The Mysterious Island.”
Where-o-where to begin with what’s gone wrong here.
The first “Journey” was decently amusing, helped somewhat by coming at the front of the modern 3D wave, but didn’t exactly set the world on fire and certainly wasn’t crying out for a sequel. It’s not surprising then that a lack of inspiration permeates every foot of “Journey 2’s” frame. The story by Richard Outten was reportedly intended to be its own kids film and was shoved and squashed into the square peg of a “Journey” sequel by co-writers Brian and Mark Gunn, resulting in a mish-mash of a movie swerving continually from being mildly entertaining to insultingly stupid.
Yes, sure, kids films work on their own logic, and aren’t generally meant to work as completely airtight narratives so much as create moments of laughs to a young audience. Certainly good kids films have been made which followed that pattern. But these kinds of movies have also been made for a long time and certain tropes have creeped up in that time. And when a film gleefully resurrects those tropes such as a castaway living alone in a homemade tree house who for some reason has bothered to put privacy signs in it to warn non-existent guests when he is sleeping you can expect a lack of imagination in a genre which needs it the most.
It certainly doesn’t help that the only returning character is the whiney, petulant pre-teen who three years later has become a whiney, petulant teen. By replacing his uncle with his new stepfather, the filmmakers have allowed themselves to regress story wise back to the exact same character arc of the first film as Sean spends most of the film ignoring Hank so that he can find this films absent-father stand-in, grandfather Alexander (Michael Caine). He is meant to be the young audience stand in, but who would want to be the guy who perpetually makes bad decisions, especially when Dwayne Johnson is standing next to him actually succeeding at being charming. The filmmakers can’t seem to make up their mind about that, either, adding to “Journey’s” disjointedness.
It also doesn’t help that on top of replaying character beats from the first film, Hutcherson has to do so opposite Johnson and Caine who can handle this sort of nonsense and come out relatively unscathed. Unfortunately, instead of raising the level of the film, more often than not they show how poor the quality of its other parts are. If nothing else, between “The Tooth Fairy” and having to bounce 3D CGI berries off his pecks at the audience, “Journey 2” proves that Johnson really is untouchable, no matter what he has to do.
Despite its negatives, “Journey 2” does occasionally, almost in spite of itself, manage to rise to the level of being mildly amusing. Then it quickly crashes back to earth on leaden wings of incompetence.
It’s not the worst kids film every made, by a wide margin. For the most part bodily fluids are thankfully kept away from the screen and there are a few well done adventure moments. But as damning with faint praise goes, that’s pretty faint.
What “Journey 2” is, is a textbook case of whimsy being done by people who have no idea what whimsy is. It tries, it doesn’t try hard but it does try, but to no avail. This island probably should have stayed lost.