“They will not stop until you feed them”

After making a boatload of money—that’s the equivalent to one hundred millions dollars if you didn’t know—Journey to the Center of the Earth was almost guaranteed a sequel. Proving they could bring the fictional worlds of Jules Verne to life and somehow make it relevant to a bunch of kids barely able to put down their Smartphones long enough to read a magazine let alone a dense volume of literature, nothing would stop the studio machine from taking the plunge to Atlantis in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.

Losing the broad stylings of Brendon Fraser this time around, little Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) remains—four years older and now a full-fledged believer in the Vernean ways like his late old man. Still sullen with the first world problems today’s youth loves to bask in self-pity for and not averse to trouble with the law, this straight-A student yearns to go on another adventure like the one to the Earth’s core. Somehow the diamonds he took are gone, though, and the stint in Canada completed as the family’s newest move lands them in Dayton, Ohio. Heck, even Mama Anderson has found rejuvenated youth as replacement Kristin Davis joins the team in order to make the factDwayne Johnson is now Sean’s stepfather a reality.

The men of course butt heads about trifling things like the boy breaking into a government facility to hijack their satellite to boost his systems—kids, they do the darndest things—and it’s Johnson’s Hank hoping to once and for all create a bond with his stepson that initiates rewarding his insolence with a trip to Palau. I remember being grounded seventy-five percent of my childhood and all I did was yell at my mother; who knew a broken home meant free trips and carte blanche when it comes to getting your way? Because not only do the two set out to find the impossible island not one but three novels are set on—yes,Jonathan Swift and Robert Louis Stevenson are the C.S. Lewis to Verne’s J.R.R. Tolkien—they’re also going to rescue Sean’s missing grandfather Alexander (Michael Caine) who Davis’ Liz all but bluntly calls a deadbeat.

So, after about ten minutes every kid in the audience is hatching plans to ignore authority and reap the benefits such ‘forward thinking’ obviously will reward. Luckily, however, it only takes that amount of time before distracting their ADHD-riddled minds with the gorgeous expanse of the Mysterious Island’s waterfalls and Lilliputian mirroring of size between elephants and butterflies. Credit writers Brian and Mark Gunn for acknowledging how slow moving Center of the Earth was and rectifying the situation by getting us into the hurricane and onto giant lizard eggs in record time. We don’t need unnecessary exposition and an over-long roller coaster ride before jumping into the real danger of exotic creatures and man-eating beasts. No, the first excitement we get is a lizard chase that thankfully makes the lame T-rex pursuit from the first film look into the stroll through the park it was.

And that’s what this film has—fun. While its predecessor tried hard to force laughs into situations much less dire than they should have been due to poor effects and my overall disinterest, Mysterious Island gives its action hero foil assistance. I like Fraser, but he was bouncing jokes into a vacuum and making their corniness more so as a result. With The Rock this time around, director Brad Peyton is allowed to offset his charismatic humor by giving the over-the-top Luis Guzmán and in rare form Caine the ability to shine opposite. Guzmán’s Gabato hams it up a little too much for my taste as he and Johnson develop a strange bromance going way beyond awkward, but you cannot deny his smile and look of innocent pleasure when ready to jump on a bumblebee’s back to soar through the sky. Caine, on-the-other-hand, is delightfully batty dishing out razor sharp verbal barbs at will with a psychotic grin.

Add in the inevitable romance between Hutcherson and eye-candy Vanessa Hudgens—who they try to make nerdy by letting her know who Mr. Mxyzptlk is—the not so dangerous race against time to escape the island’s 140-year cycle of self-destruction nicely coordinated with their visit, and quasi-emotional scenes of father with son/father with daughter and you have a pretty by-the-numbers action extravaganza full of excess and light on substance. But, once again, the kids in the audience lapped every single second up and the adults with immature sense of humor giggled right along with them. Is there another hundred million dollars in its future to round the trilogy out with From the Earth to the Moon? It wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

The film isn’t horrible; it’s actually entertaining at times and improves upon its own formula. I’m just not sure there was any point to its being made. Laughs, adventure, suspense, and large computer generated monsters guarding checkstops along the way isn’t unique and Journey 2 doesn’t do anything to freshen up those tropes. If not for the trio of Johnson, Caine, and Guzmán—no matter how absurd—there’d be even less to praise as it languished in purgatory of failed ideas like the one it follows. Listening to The Rock’s heavy-handed delivery of pectoral pops, calling Caine grandma, and being the Navy equivalent to Macguyver actually kept a smile on my face long enough to forget the popcorn fluff surrounding him. Perhaps the former WWE star’s calling isn’t gritty action after all. He seems at home in family-fare and I can’t deny the fact this genre’s audience loves him doing it.

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island 5/10