Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
Every so often you come across a film that’s so badly made in almost every aspect that you can’t imagine how anyone ever signed off on it. Badly written, badly directed, and badly acted, and yet somehow it sees the light of a projection booth. I am here to warn you that you should never hold that smug opinion that they can’t manage to make a sequel that’s even worse, for that is exactly what has been accomplished with Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, the follow-up to 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.
Like its forerunner, this movie hangs on the writings of Jules Verne are actually true — a fact known to his admirers who call themselves “Vernians”. Now, I’m not going to say that there aren’t ardent admirer’s of the man’s work — it was revolutionary in science fiction — but even I know that if The Mysterious Island is a sequel to anything it follows 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea rather than Journey to the Center of the Earth. But who are we to let mere facts get in the way of a terrible story?
These Vernians are right about one thing, though: this story is not science fiction. Indeed, I amused myself mostly by trying to count the number of distinct scientific fields the movie openly mangles and insults, but I lost track somewhere in the mid-teens when trying to decide if cinematography is a science. No matter; all the cinematic arts are put through the same wringer.
Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) — a holdover from last time around, although no mention of this is made at all — is in search of his grandfather, Alexander (Michael Caine), a “scientific adventurer”. He receives a coded message claiming that Verne’s Mysterious Island is real. His stepfather, Hank (Dwayne Johnson) — a former Navy cryptographer who now has a construction company instead of a position in software development — helps determine that it hints that the location can be sussed out by assembling not only the map printed in his novel, but the maps in Treasure Island and Gulliver’s Travels as well; the scales in Sean’s copies of each volume just happen to coincide.
The map points to a location they claim to be “just off the coast of Palau”, but the coordinates — 150º and 34º are clearly visible — are nowhere near that island. Either it’s 34º north and thus not in the South Pacific as claimed — though neither is Palau — or it’s 34º south and thus in the middle of Australia. Still, to Palau they go, where they charter a rattletrap helicopter from Gabato (Luis Guzmán) and Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens), which then flies straight into a permanent hurricane and washes them up on the Mysterious Island.
Of course, by definition all small animals grow huge and all large animals grow tiny on islands. Seriously, they say that. So, after dodging a giant frilled lizard — “why did it have to be a lizard; why couldn’t it be a snake?” Hank asks, ruining both cladistics and one of Indiana Jones’ best lines — and finding Alexander, they find the island is sinking, and the only escape is Captain Nemo’s submarine, the Nautilus.
Caine and Johnson are affable enough, but they’re both phoning it in. Nothing much can be done about Hutcherson’s bland audience-surrogate, and Guzmán is basically a fount of pre-teen scatological humor. But the biggest disappointment is that Hudgens, who I know has more talent than she’s allowed to show, is here reduced to a stock character composed of equal parts sass and breasts. The latter, incidentally, aren’t even the cheapest use of the 3-D, which is among the worst I’ve seen in a long time.
Brad Peyton’s herky-jerky direction feels like someone driving a stick shift for the first time. We careen along through a set piece, and then we must stop dead in our tracks for a bit of family drama. Then it’s a poop joke. No, wait, we’re racing again. Hey, it’s a big animal! But the blame must be shared with Brian and Mark Gunn’s atrocious script, for which continuity is not merely ignored, but actively violated. I’ve seen Ed Wood films that were more narratively coherent than this one.
I know it’s supposed to be a kids’ movie, but I wouldn’t advise showing it to them; they might get the idea that this is what movies are like, and be put off of them for good. On the other hand, there is one bright point: we finally have another movie preposterously bad enough to make the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment worthwhile.
Worth It: you’d have to be blind drunk to think that it was. Actually, that might not be a bad idea.
Bechdel Test: fail.