“The island is real!” So concludes Sean (Josh Hutcherson) when he finds a coded message from his long-absent grandfather, Alexander (Michael Caine). That would be the Mysterious Island, titular subject of Jules Verne’s 1874 novel and now, the movie called Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.
You might appreciate his delight, as the rest of Sean’s experience is so resolutely unreal. Set four years (more or less) after Journey 1, also known as Journey to the Center of the Earth, this next installment begins by introducing Sean as a full-on teenager, complete with angst and attitude… and a motorcycle that he uses to escape from police, at least until he flips it into a neighbor’s swimming pool.
At this point, the cops call in his stepfather, ex-Navy SEAL Hank (Dwayne Johnson), and the movie reveals just why this kid is so troubled: not only is his father still missing (as learned in the first movie), but now so is his uncle (Brendan Fraser), who accompanied him to the center of the earth. Now he’s living in Dayton with Hank and his mom… no longer played by Jane Wheeler, but instead, by Kristin Davis.
As Sean looks for something “real,” he’s drawn to the Vernians’ diehard faith in the non-fiction of Verne’s books. Though he resents Hank for being mom’s new man, he has to agree to bring him along on a journey to Palau after Hank’s military training provides him so very conveniently with the “expertise” to decode the map in Alexander’s message. Though mom expresses doubts that a “couple of days” in the Pacific are precisely the best way for Hank to bond with Sean, well, she’s a stand-in anyway, and so she sends them off—and sets in motion the film’s incessant and unoriginal focus on dads.
Thus, when Hank and Sean land in Palau, they enlist the services of the helicopter pilot Gabato (Luis Guzmán), also a dad in search of a way to bond with his offspring. She is Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens), who happens to be around Sean’s age and interested in going to college: the fee Gabato charges to fly to the legendarily terrible waters near the supposedly non-existent Mysterious Island (compared to the Bermuda Triangle) will help pay for that. Smitten as soon as he sees Kailani, Sean is thrilled that she decides to she needs to look after her dad, and comes along on the journey.
Barely making their way through the foretold storms, the foursome crash-lands on the titular island and immediately meet up with Alexander, who serves as a tour guide for the many creatures who live there, from miniature elephants and giant lizards to big fuzzy bees the humans can ride in order to escape even bigger birds. The movie’s tendency to combine mythologies ensures that the crew faces an assortment of obstacles: they soon learn they’re on a deadline to get off the island, as the Mysterious Island is actually Atlantis (!?), and oh dear, it’s sinking again.
And so they go in search of Captain Nemo’s 19th-century submarine, the Nautilus. They follow a map that’s apparently designed to to lead them from one encounter with bugs and reptiles to another. The dads compete, the kids flirt and fight, and the dads and kids resent each other before they come to appreciate each other.
Hank and Alexander engage in a particular sort of contest, each trying to be a good father, the grandfather offering “adventure” (Caine in a jungle hat and boots) and the other “stability,” by way of the Rock’s signature charm and sentimentality. The crises survived lead to family bonds, however makeshift. They’re apparently real enough, at least until the next installment.