Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) was an absolutely awful movie, so you'd be forgiven for having relatively low expectations for this followup. Ostensibly a sequel to Journey, this is actually a completely unrelated movie, the only connections being that this too is based on the works of Jules Verne, and that it stars Josh Hutcherson.
This time we travel to a mythical lost island of giant creatures, small creatures, volcanos, and a veritable schmorgasboard of fantastical and mythical elements. It takes the film barely 10 minutes to establish the reckless young lead, Alexander (Hutcherson), and send him off on a trip with his stepfather Hank (Dwayne Johnson), to bond and find his missing grandfather (Michael Caine). They hire the questionable helicopter pilot (Luis Guzmán), who's accompanied by his gorgeous daughter (Vanessa Hudgens). The four of them more or less crashland on the titular island, and the story is off. Cue perilous chases and death defying stunts.
Journey 2 is not bad, it's actually a bit of fun. With emphasis on "bit". Of course, there isn't much mystery to this island at all. If you've read any Jules Verne or seen the classic Ray Harryhausen films, you know pretty much what to expect. Also, this is a family film, of the Disney variety, made by the Walden Media corporation (The Narnia movies), so expect nothing to challenge traditional family values, but plenty of good, clean, inspirational messages for the kids. You can't really fault the film for that. This is the nature of the beast, if you don't like its smell, you should stay out of the kitchen when they cook it. Or whatever that old saying is. This is also a 3D movie, and most of the island and the creature we encounter are created through hit and miss CGI. Basically nothing here looks really real.
So why am I not more pissed? Well, believe it or not, probably mostly because of the actors.
Josh Hutcherson is very likable in the lead. I don't remember him at all from the first film, I guess he was overshadowed by Brendan Fraser's annoying screaming. He was good in Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (2009), and almost adorable in Little Manhattan (2005), and here he manages to create something halfway decent from the predictable character. The Rock - oh sorry, Dwayne Johnson - is pretty damn charming as well. Best of all, he's surprisingly fearless when it comes to making fun of his macho image. The peck-pop of love scene (also in the trailer) is hilarious, and you will never look at him quite the same way after the campfire sequence - I will say nothing more about it than that. Then there's Michael Caine, looking like he's having a blast, and Luis Guzman doing his best whiney sidekick. And finally we have Vanesa Hudgens as Guzmán's daughter and the love interest for Hutcherson. She may be the most controversial aspect of this film, because she's WAY too hot for anything below an R-rating, but I guess her High School Musical credentials makes her safe for this family friendly film.
I would love to see this made as a more straight-forward, grown up, Indiana Jones-like movie without all that CGI fakery, I miss those types of adventure stories, but alas, this was not meant to be. As it stands now, Journey 2 is not a "good" film, but it IS surprisingly tolerable. A pretty harmless, fun, little romp, if you can forgive the obvious flaws. I went into it with NO expectations, prepared to hate every second of it with a vengeance, which could explain my positive attitude and the fact that I might actually be willing to go on another journey with these people.
Now THAT is truly mysterious.