Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

Posted February 12, 2012 by in


Total Score

1/ 5

Quick Stats

Genre: fantasy, action-adventure, family
Director: Brad Peyton
MPAA Rating: PG
Actors: Josh Hutcherson, Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine
Length: 94 minutes
Release Date: 2/10/2012
Studio: New Line Cinema, Contrafilm
What We Thought

If your own characters are complaining about the premise, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

by Daniel Hodgson
Full Article
Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) and his step-father Hank (Dwayne Johnson) decipher a code from Sean’s grandfather Alexander (Michael Caine), who spent his life searching for The Mysterious Island, believing that the island from Jules Verne’s classic tale was in fact, real.  The code details coordinates to the island, and after consideration, Sean decides to spring for the trip to Palau to investigate, (even though it’s a school night) in order to bond with his rebellious stepson.  There, they charter a helicopter with tour guide and comic relief Gabato (Luis Guzman), and his teenage daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens).
     After a dangerous ride through a hurricane, they arrive at their destination.  We know this because the characters announce, “Ladies and gentleman, I give you ‘The Mysterious Island,'” in case you missed the establishing shot.  It seems biology works a bit different on the island.  What is big in the outside world is small on the island, and vice versa.  Why is it this way?  Don’t worry about it.  This is not real science fiction, just go with it.  The phenomenon gives rise to dog-sized elephants and giant insects.
    As they journey across the island, they come upon a giant frilled lizard, which chases them.  They’re saved by Alexander, who just so happen to put a trap for the lizard exactly where the group ended up (deux ex machina much?).  Alexander informs them that the island rises and recedes below the surface in cycles due to tectonic shifts (or some such bullshit).  However, Hank discovers that the island is going to sink faster than Alexander anticipated.  They need to find a way off the island, and fast.
     The content of Mysterious Island is imaginative and well done “B” movie stuff.  The CGI is convincing enough, showing herds of giant ants roving the ground, and truly giant spiders hanging from massive webs.  The island is covered in a dense jungle, at the center of which is a volcano.  The problem is that, even for a family film, The Mysterious Island isn’t as exciting as it’s trying to be because the content is sabotaged by the context—the story.
      The Mysterious Island should be Sean’s coming-of-age story.  Sean rebels at pic’s start, fleeing from police in a high speed chase (never mind why).  It’s no accident it’s a motorcycle he’s riding, a symbol of freedom and independence.  His rebellion reflects his need to do things for himself, by himself.  The quest—to see the world on his own and confront it’s wonders and dangers—is intended to fulfill that need.  Sean should be making his own mistakes, dealing with the consequences of his actions, and learning from them, ultimately becoming a self-reliant adult.
     Imagine it! The story of two teenagers on their own, exploring a strange and mysterious world filled with dangerous creatures.  They squabble and bicker, but learn they must work together if they’re going to survive.  They stick their necks out for one another in an equal partnership, and the love that grows between them  is a celebration of their survival.  What an adventure that would be!
     But no.  The The Mysterious Island is about two teenagers coddled by three different adults trying to get off the island as quickly as possible, and they complain about how lame it is.   If your own characters are complaining about the premise, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.  It’s Hank who calls the shots, makes the plans, and solves the problems.  Alexander knows about the island and how to traverse it, and even Kailani pitches in.  Poor Sean spends his time following along resentfully.  He eventually learns the value of family, but it feels more like resignation.
     There’s nothing wrong with a story about a father bonding with his stepson on an adventure, and the minor learning to accept his parent’s judgement because they’re older and wiser.  But this kid is 17 years old; he’s not vulnerable enough to need a big, bulky man-of-action protecting him.  Part of the problem is that Mysterious Island is a star vehicle for Dwayne Johnson, who also has a producer credit.  He shows off his singing just before Mysterious Island goes into Act III, and over the end credits.  He shouldn’t be in the movie at all.  A story about kids attacked by giant lizards with no one there to save them is exciting.  “The Rock” putting himself in harm’s way for them is not.  Context sabotages content.
     There’s nothing subtle about the film, from dialog to editing.  Everything is explained; the audience isn’t asked to think or speculate.  Hank and Sean argue at pic’s start, as Sean does not respect Hank’s authority.  Two minutes later, Hank shows Sean the tickets to Pulau.  From this, we can infer that Hank is trying to reach out to Sean, or maybe he has a sense of adventure himself.  But the filmmakers just can’t leave it alone.  They have to insert a scene of Hank telling Sean’s mother he’s taking Sean on the adventure for a bonding experience, explaining his motivation, rather than trusting in our intelligence to figure it out.  The movie treats the audience the same way Hank treats his stepson; like a kid.
     Journey 2:  The Mysterious Island has a habit of going to slow motion mid-shot, trying to heighten the excitement of an action, such as when Sean is nearly snatched up mid-air in the jaws of a giant frilled lizard, and the moment is all but frozen in time.  “Hey, look at this!!!” this style screams.  One can do this sort of thing at the climax of LOTR:  Return of the King (you know which shot I’m talking about), but here, the moments have no dramatic significance to the story, and there’s so little investment in the two-dimensional characters that the technique is empty and ineffective.
     Even the dialog is in 3D.  The lines “pop out” at the audience, with characters exclaiming “Here we go!” and “Let’s do this!” before they launch into action, not forgetting, “Ladies and Gentleman, I give you The Mysterious Island.”  The corny lines and bad puns of Schwarzennegger movies would be better than this no-effort dreck, which doesn’t add anything, just like the slo-mo doesn’t.
     Mysterious Island gets a PG rating, and the action is pretty toned down (there’s no blood or on-screen deaths).  However, if you’re looking for wholesome, family entertainment, consider this:  when Sean first meets Kailani, the camera looks her up and down from Sean’s point of view.  The shot cuts prematurely, but the intent of the shot was clear; it’s the male gaze, nothing more than teenage lust.  Sound like family entertainment so far?  It gets better.  Where there’s a common shot in film language called an “over the shoulder,” in Mysterious Island, there’s a shot framed from behind Kailani’s breast.  She’s clothed, it’s not in a sexualized context, but the framing and staging are suspect.  Couldn’t she or the camera been angled differently? what other purpose could having the shot that way have?  The outfit she wears in the film bares her midriff and a hint of cleavage, not to mention that she parades around in shorts.  She doesn’t have much purpose than romantic interest for Sean, and Sean never indicates liking anything about her personality.  My point here is that while the actress is in her early 20s, the teenage character she portrays is objectified, and this is not the wholesome, family entertainment it pretends to be.
     Journey 2:  The Mysterious Island is not a classic like any of the stories it’s based on.  It’s scarcely a story at all.  It’s a disposable Hollywood product, fresh off the conveyor belt.  With theater prices what they are these days per person, on top of the surcharge for the 3D glasses—again, per person—I think families have a right to ask for more than this.

About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.


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