If anyone was looking forward to a sequel to 2008’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, then I haven’t met them. That Brendan Fraser-led expedition was the first narrative feature film to use the Fusion Camera technology made famous by Avatar, and was a decent enough timewaster, thanks mostly to the ever-charismatic presence of Fraser.
I forgot, however, that that film was a ‘sequel’ to Verne’s book, rather than a remake. It used the idea that Verne’s books were actually non-fiction as a jumping-off point, and Journey 2 doesn’t waste time getting anyone used to the idea. Thus, we’re hearing about ‘Vernians’ from the get-go, and before you can say ‘narrative groundwork’ the film’s off and running as returning character Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) is off to Palau to find the titular island with his stepdad, Hank Parsons (Dwayne Johnson).
Whilst the first film might have been characterised as ‘light entertainment’, Journey 2 contains the absolute bare bones of a story. In fact, it feels like a one page synopsis rather than a 100 page script. The film falls into a regular rhythm of awkward exposition / extended visual effects sequence / awkward exposition / extended visual effects sequence, and whilst the digital effects might make for great trailer grabs, they achieve zilch when the story’s so flimsy. There’s talk of Robert Louis Stephenson, Atlantis, the Nautilus and ‘pec-popping’ (don’t ask) but none of it fits. It’s like someone ate a bunch of jigsaws, threw them back up and then tried to puzzle out a narrative with all the disparate pieces.
The cast are adequate, but it’d be unfair to criticise them for anything that was clearly the fault of the screenplay. Supposedly Brendan Fraser couldn’t commit to the sequel because of scheduling issues, but one has to wonder if maybe he didn’t take one look at the script and think his time was better spent elsewhere. Dwayne Johnson is a likeable enough performer, as always, but no one comes close to Fraser regarding the highly specialised skill of Acting In Front Of Stuff That Isn’t There.
Vanessa Hudgens gets to be Sean’s love interest as Kailani, whilst Luis Guzmán is the comic relief as her father, Gabato. The less said about Michael Caine’s appearance the better. His response to starring in Jaws: The Revenge has always been that he certainly liked the house that paycheck built, so I’d like to know if he bought himself a big swimming pool with the proceeds of this gig.
Undiscerning kids may get a kick out of The Mysterious Island, but everyone else will be bored. As thrilling as the concept of Michael Caine riding a giant bee sounds, the narrative powering the film can’t escape the fact that it’s running on fumes.Rating: