8 February 2012


In 2008, the Real-D 3D wave in cinemas was prefixed by Journey to the Centre of the Earth 3D, a functional and diverting family adventure based on Jules Verne's novel. In the age of the movie franchise, Warner Bros. hope to extrapolate this into a whole series of literary adventure movies, which pull in a number of Verne novels and, in the case of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, even authors such as Jonathan Swift and Robert Louis Stevenson. It's just unfortunate that Brendan Fraser passed on this, really, isn't it?

Nevertheless, Josh Hutcherson returns as Fraser's character's intrepid nephew, Sean, who is that purely fictional teenage archetype- the academic rebel. Much to the despair of his mum, and his stepdad, Hank, Sean spends his time obsessing over literary works in search of the place described in Jules Verne's "The Mysterious Island", where he believes his grandfather is stranded. By cross-referencing with other literary islands (cue Swift and Stevenson), Sean finds the island and drags along Hank, a helicopter pilot, and the pilot's teenage daughter along on his adventure.

Journey 2 comes from Brad Peyton, the hired gun who gave us 2010's Cats & Dogs- The Revenge of Kitty Galore, and so this film wouldn't usually look too different from committee-produced studio fare either. Happily, it has a number of wildcards in its favour, like a vivid and colourful sense of imagination, and some quite bizarre casting. This is a film that puts Dwayne Johnson and Michael Caine together, at last- now there's a match made... somewhere. And moreover, both actors ride giant CGI bees, in a bit of Liliputian logic that seems to have been calculated for the optimum amount of 3D thrillage and spillage.

It's peculiar, the way in which Johnson has become something like a weightlifting spotter, for non-starter franchises and sequels to ailing properties. Last summer, he was by far the best thing about the noisy and overlong Fast Five, and even hypnotised people into thinking it was the best action movie of the year, somehow. This summer, he's in GI Joe: Retaliation, which dispenses with most of the cast of 2009's Rise of Cobra and lines up Johnson and Bruce Willis to fight the baddies instead. His presence seems to encourage struggling properties to pump out one more rep, and his charm and likeabilty doesn't take any knocks along the way.

He's clearly having a whale of a time here, on such surreal diversions as punching giant lizards, getting the rest of the cast to bounce 3D berries off of his popping pecs, and even serenading Caine and Hutcherson on a ukulele. His seemingly boundless enthusiasm elevates the whole thing, but it also makes the obvious lack of enthusiasm elsewhere more apparent, and more disappointing. Hutcherson and his underpowered love interest, Vanessa Hudgens, largely land somewhere in between enthusiastic and present, while Caine seems to mug his way through the film, alongside Luis Guzman. At least Guzman is stuck in the unenviable position of being a comic relief character- Caine really just seems to be there to pick up the pay cheque.

Peyton seems to have been influenced by Avatar, with the unfortunate shortfall between the quality of the CGI and the general awe of the film's approach to the titular island serving to make the comparison a little naive. As far as the narrative goes, it's a tab A, slot B slog from setpiece to setpiece, with the injections of Key Stage 2 science which served to make the first film more brainy too. "Soil Liquefaction, with The Rock" would make a pretty lame after-school special on its own, but swept up within the colourful and breezy adventure tone, it just about passes muster.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is daft and imaginative, at least within the bounds of budget and studio tastes, and no more or less diverting than its predecessor. Johnson is, indefatigably, a more charismatic presence than Brendan Fraser was, and his carrying the film all the way through actually left me curious to see its final audacious sequel hook fulfilled. Kids are sure to find this one funny, even if adults don't quite get their share of enjoyment from the silliness, but whatever else you think about it, this is clearly the best film featuring Dwayne Johnson singing and playing the ukulele to Michael Caine that has ever been made.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is now showing, in 2D and 3D, at cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Journey 2, why not share your comments below? If you want to see it, but haven't got around to it yet, you can safely skip the 3D version and enjoy it in glorious 2D instead.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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