While the real mystery might be why it has taken four years to follow up on Journey to the Centre of the Earth, there is a bit of fun to be had in this silly romp through the works of Jules Verne.
With Jules Verne’s fiction adapted countless times for the screen, Eric Brevig’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth (2008) took a different approach and supposed that his works were documentary in nature. Using his novels as a blueprint to a world humans could only dream of, we left young Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) as he emerged from a lost land at the Earth’s core with a greater sense of the value of family, and a surprisingly successful box office haul. Despite losing director Eric Brevig and original star Brendan Fraser, who are both off working on a 3D version of William Tell, the journey continues with director Brad Peyton and this time it is to a…mysterious island. Obviously.
Sean Anderson (Hutcherson) is now a teenage rebel without a cause, living with his mother and step-father Hank (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson). As the latter struggles to connect to his new son, Sean receives an encoded message from another follower of Jules Verne (a ‘Vernian’). After bonding over decoding the message, which simply tells them “The island is real”, Sean and Hank head off to Palau to find the mysterious island and Sean’s grandfather (Michael Caine). Teaming up with helicopter pilot Gabato (Luis Guzmán) and his daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens), the group fly into the eye of a hurricane. What they find on the other side astounds them all.
Journey to the Centre of the Earth didn’t exactly set the bar high for narrative brilliance, so expectations for the oddly-named Journey 2: The Mysterious Island are probably shrouded in as many swirling eddies as the titular island. This might work to the film’s advantage, for while it never manages to soar into classic territory, a suspension of disbelief and a willingness to embrace the silliness of the story will go a long way towards tickling one’s fun factor. “Subtle” is not a word one would use in relation to this over-the-top romp, especially with the almost lethal combination of Guzmán’s stereotype of a tour guide, and The Rock doing his best eyebrow work in years. A soon-to-be-legendary Pec Pop of Love Sequence that is simultaneously cringe-worthy and the most genius creation of the mad boffins at Rock HQ. His cheesy grin sliding into frame at the most inopportune moments, including the awkward romance that grows between Hutcherson and Hudgens, makes the pain of unhinged sentimentality bearable. In short, The Rock abides.
The rest of the cast doesn’t fare so well, with Hutcherson’s character one of the weakest links. After being established as the “seasoned adventurer” of the first film, screenwriters Brian and Mark Gunn (best known before this for the direct-to-video sequel Bring It on Again) spend the rest of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island crafting him into a whiny prat. This is somewhat understandable, given that until his starring role in The Hunger Games later this year, he was always going to be third-fiddle behind the mighty Rock and idol Hudgens, with even Guzmán’s antics overshadowing his bitching. Michael Caine simply looks older than he ever has before and occasionally disinterested, not to mention awkward in a brief appearance in motorcycle leathers.
The special effects and action sequences, on the other hand, are frequently spectacular. As the group take to the skies on the backs of giant bees, purused by even bigger native birds, the audience is given a reason to love 3D. Similarly, the design on the Vernian artifacts is meticulous, with Captain Nemo’s Nautilus a beautifully functional ship that captures the spirit of the nineteenth-century novels. These moments give the film enough buoyancy to ride through the rough patches, ending in what is ultimately a fun ride through a pastiche of Verne’s greatest hits and a view to the inevitable sequel.
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is released in Australia on 19 January 2012 from Roadshow. It is released in the US on 10 February 2012.