With the commercial success of the Brendan Fraser led adventure comedy Journey to the Center of the Earth the people over at New Line Cinema obviously wanted a sequel but as Jules Verne’s original novel didn’t have a sequel they decided to mine for ideas from other stories, taking elements from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Jules Verne’s own Mysterious Island – which was actually a sequel to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – but what they didn’t land for the return journey was star Brendan Fraser.
Taking place four years after the previous adventure we find seventeen-year-old Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) living in Dayton, Ohio with his mom (Kristin Davis) and his stepdad Hank (Dwayne Johnson), he’s not a happy camper and spends all his time obsessing over Jules Verne and trying to decode a radio signal that he suspects was sent by his long-missing grandfather, Alexander Anderson (Michael Caine). With help from Hank, they figure out that code by deducing that it uses Jules Verne characters and maps from three different books, Treasure Island, Gulliver’s Travels and Verne’s own Mysterious Island and by combining these three maps into one single large map it reveals the co-ordinates an uncharted island.
But with the Dora the Explorer unavailable Sean and Hank fly to Palau in the hopes of chartering a boat and proving whether or not this mysterious island actually exists, unfortunately, the area they want to check out is considered by most to be too dangerous to visit and is referred by the locals as a “graveyard of ships” and thus our heroes are forced to resort to hiring a broken down helicopter operated by tourism guide Gabato (Luis Guzmán) and his daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens). No sooner do they arrive at the coordinates than they find themselves trapped in a cyclone, which batters the helicopter and sends them down into the sea. Lucky for them they all wash ashore on the Mysterious Island and they immediately proceed to search for Sean’s grandfather in the hopes that his radio can call for help.
To say that the plot of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is ridiculous would be giving the writers of this thing too much credit as the ninety-four-minute running consists of nothing more than a collection of nonsensical references to classic literature without any concern of context or logic. When they encounter a herd of tiny elephants Hank asks “Sean, what does Verne say about this?” which Sean replies, “It’s the first law of island biogeography. Small animals become large and large animals become small, Lilliputian. Swift alluded to this in Gulliver’s Travels” which, of course, is utter nonsense as Jonathan Swift had stated no such thing in his book and spouting off bullshit science and blaming it on a literary giant is all kinds of wrong. It’s one thing to base your movie on the works of various authors but to blatantly invent bullshit science like this, which would have pissed off someone like Verne, is simply lazy and wrong.
Note: I would like to think them being chased by a giant lizard is an homage to the 1959 adaptation of Journey to the Center of the Earth which used lizards to play the part of dinosaurs.
After a night’s rest, Alexander takes them to the ruins of Atlantis and states that this is “The same Atlantis Verne wrote about down to the last detail” which the screenwriters of this movie clearly never read because in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea the lost continent of Atlantis was in the bloody Atlantic Ocean, hence its name, and not the South Pacific. Now, he also states that this Mysterious Island suffers from a 140-year cycle of sinking beneath the sea, which is why it was underwater when Verne discovered it, but if that were the case he wouldn’t have also written about it as an island as it would have simply been the seabed at the time. Thus we have another example of the writers trying to cram several ideas from different books into one story without bothering to see if they mesh at all. The rest of the movie deals with their journey to find Captain Nemo’s submarine, as the Nautilus would be the only safe way off the island when they realize they’ve only got days before it sinks beneath the waves. Cue giant spiders, giant ants and “The Flight of the Bumblebee” with our heroes riding giant bees as if the film suddenly turned into Honey I Shrunk the Kids.
• The first movie dealt with Sean’s missing father and in this sequel, we have Sean’s missing grandfather, clearly, the common denominator here is Sean.
• A helicopter is not the ideal vehicle to search for an island that may or may not exist as the fuel capacity of said aircraft is rather limited.
• The island is hidden by a permanent hurricane, something that would attract every meteorologist in the world to investigate.
• Our heroes get cornered by a giant lizard right where Sean’s grandfather had set multiple swinging log devices. That’s not luck that is some bullshit levels of screenwriting laziness.
• They come across something called the Dakkar Grotto and Sean states “The resting place of Captain Nemo. Legend has it his crew buried him there.” And what legend is that? In Verne’s book, we are told that the Nautilus sailed the oceans of the world until all its crew except Nemo had died, it was then that Nemo retired to the island, alone, and at the end of the book, the Nautilus was scuttled to serve as Captain Nemo’s tomb.
• Gold flakes rain down on our heroes, caused by the nearby erupting volcano, which apparently contains massive gold deposits, and thus Sean states “That must be the treasure that Robert Louis Stevenson was talking about in Treasure Island.” Once again I ask, what the fuck book was he reading? Stevenson was writing about pirate treasure, for Christ’s sake, not gold spewing volcanoes.
• I’m fine with taking liberties with the look of Captain Nemo’s submarine but the Nautilus not only looks nothing like Verne version but the writers outfitted it with bloody torpedoes. Seriously, did anyone involve with this project even open a book? For one, the Nautilus rammed enemy ships it did not blow them up.
I’m all four fun rip-roaring adventure films but director Brad Peyton and screenwriters Brian and Mark Gunn clearly had no respect for the source material, with characters at multiple times supposedly quoting information from a book when in actual fact they are just pulling stuff out of their collective assess. Any fan of Jules Verne watching this movie would be endangered of losing their eyesight with the number of times the script will cause you to roll your eyes in disbelief, and even if you set aside the film’s bastardization of the source material you’re still dealing with some fairly unlikable people on this particular adventure. Sean in this movie is a petulant jerk and all the “teenage angst” in the world cannot excuse his behaviour here, then we have Dwayne Johnson, who is one of the most charismatic people in the world, yet he and Michael Caine’s character get into a pissing match the second they meet for no possible reason. Then we have the father/daughter team consisting of Luis Guzmán and Vanessa Hudgens who are stuck in this thing simply to provide some bad comic relief and a possible love interest for Sean.
Overall, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is another big special effects extravaganza that cashed in on the 3D craze of the time and was thus more a theme park ride than an actual movie and it should be noted that Dwayne Johnson would later appear in a much better jungle adventure film in, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and as that was a fantasy film based on being trapped inside a video game you can get away with bizarre biology, insane geology and physics that makes little to no sense, unlike this film which is supposed to be taking place in the real world but has people riding giant bees, surprisingly intact lost cities and submarines that are fully functional despite being mothballed for over a hundred years. Now, visually speaking this movie does showcase some amazing talent and if the creation of this world had been in service of a better script, one not made as if the screenwriters were playing Boggle with the works of Jules Verne and others, this could have been a really great movie instead of just a silly adventure tale with no real substance.
Note: If this island suffers from something called a “tectonic recurrence” and sinks beneath the sea every 140 years I doubt the ruins of Atlantis would have been this well preserved, they’d most likely be just a collection of loose rubble by now.
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (2012)
Movie Rank - 5.5/10
Dwayne Johnson was the perfect choice to fill the shoes of absent Brendan Fraser but the nonsensical mess they called a screenplay constantly undercut much of the fun that the film was trying to instill.