Since he left the professional wrestling business, Dwayne Johnson (better known as 'The Rock' to fans and friends alike) has alternated his roles between full-blown action star and the guy who carries the action in family films, thrust into the role of almost reluctant parent who eventually grows into the role while kicking the requisite ass the role may need. Continuing in the theme of roles like The Tooth Fairy, Johnson stars in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, replacing Brendan Fraser in a sequel to 2008's Journey to the Center of the Earth.
The film was written by Brian and Mark Gunn and directed by Brad Peyton (Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore). Johnson plays Hank, a former Navy sailor who is husband to Liz (Kristin Davis, Sex and the City), but also is a stepfather to Sean (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right). Sean is a rebellious tot and bumps heads with Hank from time to time, but when the opportunity to search for the 'Mysterious Island' as touched on in the Jules Verne books, Hank finds a bonding opportunity with his stepson. With the help of a helicopter pilot in Gabani (Luis Guzman, Arthur) and Gabani's daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens, Sucker Punch), Hank and Sean embark to not only find the island, but hopefully Sean's grandfather in the process.
The story gets away with the fluff early on in the film and at barely 90 minutes in length gets Hank, Sean, Gabani and Kailani to the island as quickly as possible, within the first 15 minutes, so then they can battle a wide variety of large computer-generated insects, birds and threatening animals that would make Jonny Qwest stand up and cheer. The obstacles to Sean's journey are teeth gritting yet oddly innocuous, as Sean's grandfather does make his appearance (and is played by Michael Caine surprisingly). Caine's character stands up for his grandson and he also has his own bumping of heads with Hank in terms of Hank's general intelligence, but as the film goes on and Hank bonds more with Sean, he does the same with pop pop.
Johnson's performance in the film brings many of the same things that it had in the past, with a mix of physicality and humor with a light dusting of emotion tossed in. The comic foil for the film proves to be Guzman, whose performance is a testament to his versatility. He pulls it off nicely, though it is a role I would hope he does not do in the future. A more physical comic actor is the go to for something like this. Hutcherson has been doing roles like this for a few years now, and while Hudgens' casting is a bit of a surprise, the two play off each other about as well as one could expect.
The heart of the story appears to be Johnson trying to form a familial bond with Hutcherson and taken for face value, it goes okay. With a film such as Journey 2, the storytellers are hardly considering making any tweaks to the formula, they are making sure they get their fair share of thrills and laughs. Taking the film for what it is, which is a pleasant diversion for the family, Hutcherson, Johnson and the other prominent members of the cast do not make any bothersome missteps, which for a film like this is not hard to do to begin with maybe?
I think we are, however, getting to the point where we should discuss what it is exactly that Johnson is bringing to family films like this. Is he good in Journey 2? Sure, but he is doing anything that can be considered different compared to similar types of films he's starred in for the last half decade? I don't think so, and perhaps that is something Johnson should consider to keep this thing he's got going for himself.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and in high definition using the AVC codec, Journey 2 looks solid. Image detail in the foreground tends to lack in moments, things like facial pores aren't readily visible but fine hairs on a large bee are more so, but otherwise the flesh tones appear accurate and the greens of the jungle look vibrant without bleeding into other parts of the image. You can even spot the computer effect and green screen seams when viewing the film also. There are also some scenes that were shot in 3D and whose presence you'll spot immediately as well I think. I was expecting a little more visually from the feature, but a solid presentation nonetheless.
More improved and pleasing is the DTS-HD Master Audio lossless 5.1 surround track, which is all encompassing and immersive. A lot of action permeates and drifts in and out of the soundstage, and it starts early on from the initial trip to find the island. Rain, wind, thunder and lightning are aplenty and sound clear, with channel panning and directional effects present over the course of the feature. In quieter sequences the dialogue sounds consistent and without any chirping or mosquito noise. The overall product is definitely better than I was expecting.
The New Line/Warner video folk have seemed to lean a little towards the 'fast and easy' approach when it comes to supplements, and this is no different. "Are You Strong Enough to Survive Mysterious Island?" is an interactive look at the island in the film. A gag reel (1:16) of flubs is next, and five deleted scenes (5:53) include more of the Rock, but offer little else. The pack also comes with a standard definition copy of the film (where the picas come from) and an Ultraviolet digital copy of the film available for download and/or streaming..
There are smaller things in Journey 2 that could spawn some possibly intriguing discussion, but on the surface, it is a quick, harmless, entertaining little romp much in the spirit of its predecessor, and the names involved all have fun, but not too much so. Technically the disc looks decent, but its lossless track is superb, while it tends to lag a bit on the extras. If you have kids it is definitely worth the time (perhaps as much if you do not have kids), but I would not buy it unless you are hard up for a kid's birthday gift or something.