Note: When I originally wrote this review I went on and on about continuity issues surrounding the franchise, around 600 words worth of complaints on a subject only the heartiest of souls will want to read. So, my gift to you, an opening couple of paragraphs detailing only the relative strengths of the film. That way, if you're a mom or dad looking for precious intel about Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, you can use the opening paragraph to make a decision. Everyone else, the folks who just want to read what it's like to be really annoyed by a film's lack of logic can stick around for all the fun that comes after. I live but to serve!
Should you see Journey 2: The Mysterious Island? If you liked the first one, sure. It's the same level of PG comedy mixed with the same amount of fast-paced action. In no way will you be let down if you're under the age of say, seven, or thrilled by this work if you're over the age of say, twelve. Moms and dads should feel safe in the knowledge that they can send their little ones off to this completely innocuous fun without any guilt whatsoever, though the film is largely forgettable, as befits a February release.
The action? It's definitely plentiful, and the film moves along at a brisk pace. The 3-D (once again, with feeling) is probably not worth your additional dollars. The film moves along as a continual chase scene, with giant lizards and mean-spirited birds providing the foils on this mysterious island. Not genre-defining, but not a complete disaster either. Younglings may have their curiosity piqued, stranger things happen all the time.
There. Done. Now, let's bring out the long knives.
At the very least, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (3-D) is an astounding triumph of commerce bending art to its will. Consider that this is a sequel which really has only the word "Journey" in common with its predecessor, and in which a deeper look at the source material only leads to more confusion, like a labyrinth built upon a Ferris wheel.
Here are the facts on the ground: In 2008 a film called Journey to the Center of the Earth was released, eventually earning $240m worldwide on a production budget of $60m. Warner Bros. likely thought "Hey, money, awesome!" but were initially presented with a dilemma where a potential franchise was concerned. You see, there was no sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth, because Jules Verne hadn't bothered to write one, and he wasn't available to whip one up, having died a century previously. What to do? Bust out the crayons and write a totally impromptu sequel? Nope. Give up on the idea of a franchise altogether? Fat chance! If you guessed "just find another Jules Verne story that kinda / sorta / doesn't really fit and make THAT story the sequel part" then you're a winner! The amazing part of the whole endeavor is that The Mysterious Island actually is a sequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea meaning Warner Bros. took the second part of a different story and made it a second part to their wholly disparate story. But wait, there's more! According to our friends at Wikipedia:
[The Journey to the Center of the Earth movie] refers to and may be considered a 21st-century sequel to the 19th-century novel of the same name by Jules Verne.
Yep, you got it, that movie was actually a sequel to a book, making this movie a sequel to a sequel, based upon a sequel from another story. This is, of course, completely bonkers and should only be thought about again if you need to make sure you're not suffering from a concussion. And in the studio's defense, they were kind enough to call each a "Journey," so we didn't get lost, even though Verne's work was merely called The Mysterious Island, no journey, and wasn't even in 3-D. In a way they've improved the "product," creating a through-line where none existed, and forcing us to wear glasses and pay extra money to watch it. Progress!
However, if you watch these films back to to back you'll notice that:
1) Sean (Josh Hutcherson)'s uncle Trevor (Brendan Fraser) doesn't appear in the second film and is never mentioned.
2) The concept of being a "Vernian" is discussed throughout both stories, indicating that he's an author whose ideas should be respected and revered, even as both films actively Frankenstein stories together that bear little resemblance to his source material or themes.
Now, it's all well and good to knock how a film came about, but it's important we delve into Dwayne Johnson as well. In this film he's Sean's stepfather, call sign "Hank," and he's keen on building a stronger relationship with Sean. Naturally, Sean is leery. After all, he's recently starred in a movie where his Uncle ceased to exist within the narrative. Still, when Sean comes across a mysterious encoded message, Hank helps him solve the first mystery. They are then off on an adventure to meet with Michael Caine (pronunciation guide), Sean's Grandfather. From there they have to solve a mystery called "How do we get off this island?" Sean also meets a girl, and learns what "family" really means. There's a fairly sweet electric eel involved at some point in the film, which I won't spoil for you.
Does any of this add up to anything? Not in the slightest. There are a few laughs here for adults, if only because Luis Guzmán is awesome, but everyone outside the target demo (third-graders?) will likely find only boredom and continuity questions.