About two weeks ago, a few friends and I decided to kill an evening by going out to eat and then seeing a movie at the dollar theater. The pickings at Lexington’s local dollar theater were slim, but eventually we decided on Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. What a fortuitous choice it was. I laughed harder at Josh Hutcherson and The Rock loping around Jules Verne’s CGI-ed island than I have at any recent film I’ve seen. Unfortunately, not all the laughs (read: most of them) were unintentionally funny. In order to preserve the exquisite experience, I’ve penned a recap of the kids’ adventure flick below. I can only hope it makes you laugh a fraction of how much I did in that nearly-empty theater.
A Continual Suspension of Disbelief, or, A Recap of Journey 2 : The Mysterious Island
So, we open with voiceover from Michael Caine, who is clearly just having fun in his old age, and then we cut to a kid on a motorcycle running from the cops. And I mean, he’s doing some extravagant, fancy moves to outrun them. Oh, crap! He’s driven into a swimming pool. A dripping-wet, blissfully-brown-haired Peeta (who I will only be referring to as “Peeta,” even though I’m aware his name is Josh Hutcherson) pops up, smiling. “Evening, officers!” He’s broken into some satellite facility in the desert (this is the first of many ridiculous things) in order to better receive some coded radio transmission. His stepfather, THE ROCK, picks him up. They have a sticky relationship at best: Peeta misses his real father (Brendan Fraser, from the first movie, whose absence is both avoided and unexplained) and THE ROCK used to be a Navy man, so he’s tough. He might give Chris Evans’s Captain America a run for his money in the tight shirt department. Chris Evans manages not to look like a buff, grinning thumb; THE ROCK, however, can really be summed up in that phrase alone.
Peeta is in his angsty, teenage room (complete with “Not Your Room” sign on the door) trying to break the code when THE ROCK comes in. Between them, in a matter of minutes, they have broken the code, which Peeta is convinced contains the location of The Mysterious Island, written about by Jules Verne in the late 19th century. Spoiler alert: it does. And the code is laughably simple, so anybody who was listening could have figured it out. But it’s all whatevs. This family is chock-full of wunderkind, and we are NOT to question their smarts.
Also, in a Robert Langdon-esque flash of insight, Peeta figures out that Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels have all been written about the same island. (Some serious conspiracies going on in the literary world.) THE ROCK rips the map at the front of each book out, lays them all on top of each other, and a map of the island is formed! Including exact (to the second) coordinates. It’s very convenient that the editions of these books these gents have are all the same size (plus all really old), and the paper is transparent enough to see the final map. (This is the first of many convenient things.)
After what amounts to basically a cameo appearance by Peeta’s mom (Kristin Davis, in dire need of a paycheck and not willing to do any stuntwork), THE ROCK and Peeta are off to Pulau in the Pacific Ocean. (This isn’t the mysterious island; it lies farther offshore, duh.) Peeta is just a worldly kind of teen: chatting up tour guides, wearing cargo pants, sunglasses and tight T-shirts (the tween girls/gaybois in the audience got to see him shirtless for a half-second earlier, and let me be the first to tell you: he is just OH SO DREAMY). The pair happen upon a tour guide who was named Gabato or something terrible (henceforth known as Comic Relief, or ComRel for short), and he agrees to take them to the coordinates Peeta is flaunting on HIS iPHONE, which has service on this island through the magic of film. ComRel says he’ll bring his daughter along, a hopelessly idiotic Vanessa Hudgens that Peeta immediately falls head over heels for. Seriously, we get a pan-down shot starting with her face to her ample bosom (she’s wearing whatever the female equivalent of a wifebeater is) and Peeta can’t close his mouth. All the tween straitbois in the audience shift awkwardly in their seats, covering their respective crotches.
So, off we go. The helicopter’s a piece of crap, natch, and ComRel ain’t the best pilot. (Except for later, when he needs to be.) Of course, there is a permanent hurricane surrounding the coordinates, and the island, according to Peeta (who by this point has rattled off so many ridiculous (and untrue) statistics that you wonder if he actually is the smartest HIGH SCHOOLER there ever was.), our merry band needs to fly through the Category-5 hurricane (Seriously: THE ROCK looks up and says something akin to, “That’s a Category-5 Hurricane!” The teach amateur meteorology in the Navy, it seems.) to get to the island. Spoiler alert: they do, but they crash into the water, and all of them wash up on the beach. The helicopter’s destroyed. They’re stranded.
Our intrepid explorers gather their things and head from the dark, rocky beach through a cave to a gorgeous tropical paradise, where Peeta utters the immortal line: “Jules Verne, man. You gotta believe.” First belly laugh of the whole film. This line is followed by this equally painful exchange:
PEETA: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…
THE ROCK: …The Mysterious…(weird, weird pause)…Island.
I mean, the acting skills of THE ROCK are second to none. At least Peeta can act.
Peeta spouts off “the first rule of island biogeology” or “island biogeography” or some ridiculous combination of sciences that probably doesn’t exist: on an isolated island, all the big animals become smaller and all the small animals become bigger. Now, my zoological interjection: this is BASED in fact. There is a phenomenon known as island gigantism, where small animals, typically insects (best example I can think of: http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2012/02/24/147367644/six-legged-giant-finds-secret-hideaway-hides-for-80-years) grow larger than normal, due to their lack of predators. This is commonly seen on Madagascar and New Zealand, two islands that remained isolated from mainlands for years and years. I imagine that the reverse is also somewhat true: large animals have no reason to remain extra-large, so they gradually become smaller. Like other “science” in this movie, this phenomenon has been blown way out of proportion: the first animal we see is an elephant the size of a dog. Next up, our heroes are climbing some boulders that (spoiler alert!) turn out to be lizard eggs. ComRel falls into one and gets immediately covered in viscous goo. Mama Liz is PISSED, and tries to eat our merry band. They run away and the day is saved (after some creative CGI) by Michael Caine, Peeta’s grandfather and fellow Vernian. (Seriously. That’s what they call themselves, these believers in Verne.)
Mike has set up quite a little treehouse for himself in this jungle and after a night of sleep and Peeta’s advances on ‘Nessa being rejected, the band of five heads off to…you should have seen this coming…ATLANTIS. Of course, Atlantis is on The Mysterious, Always-Storm-Surrounded, Gigantism-Dwarfism Island. Ol’ Mike (who is really just relishing this role) informs us all that the island is on a 140-year cycle: it spends 70 years afloat and then, due to some tectonic plate shifting that Peeta calls some ridiculously made-up, pseudo-scientific name, it sinks to the ocean floor, spending 70 years underwater before rising to the surface again. One presumes that underwater cyclones surround it when it’s on the ocean floor. Mikey tells us all that the island is set to sink in 12 or 14 years.
BUT WAIT: THE ROCK’s Navy training comes in handy. He tastes a pool of water in the fabled city, only to discover that it is saltwater! Oh, no! THE ROCK, who is very experienced with sinking/floating islands, informs our farcical bunch that the island will be sinking in two or three days, because of some dubious scientific phenomenon that probably doesn’t exist.
Well, crap. How is they be gettin’ offa dis eye-land? Conveniently, Captain Nemo (who really existed, duh: Jules Verne was just disguising his landmark works of science fiction as fiction. They were all REAL.) is buried on the island, and his submarine, Nautilus, is docked somewhere here, too. Well, off we go.
Little Miss Thang is the only one small enough to crawl into Nemo’s tomb (of COURSE Mikey knows where it is; stop being surprised!) and she grabs his journal, which Nemo’s skeleton is grasping tightly in its bony hands. Oh, no: this triggers a tomb collapse which we all saw coming a mile away and ‘Nessa barely escapes with her life. The journal holds all the secrets of the Nautilus, so our heroes are off again.
Sometime around here, the film gives us a gem of a scene between THE ROCK and Peeta. Peeta is frustrated because his Premiere Chickadee doesn’t like him back (harumph), and he is given advice by THE ROCK. THE ROCK ends his cliched advice by telling Peeta that he needs to do a “pec-pop” to really get her attention. Audiences are promptly treated to two or three minutes of THE ROCK making his pecs dance while ComRel throws berries off of them that bounce back onto Peeta’s face. He’s thrilled about it, clearly. The final berry ricochets back into ComRel’s mouth. Fun for all!
We also get a closeup of the erupting volcano that has been featured in background shots the whole movie. The mountain is made of gold, so instead of erupting lava, it erupts molten gold and spews golden ash into the skies. Because WHY NOT? This is The Mysterious Island, after all. Our band of fools is just over the moon about the gold! Riches forever! We’re gonna die in two days on this abandoned, obscure island…but, gold!
Our intrepid idiots continue to traipse across the island, where fun is had by all until we hit a wall. Literally. Our heroes need to be at the top of this massive cliff, yet they find themselves at the bottom. However shall they scale the heights? Mikey has an idea: giant bees! Despite their lack of breaking in and reins/steering devices, the bees manage to be hyper-responsive to commands! Upward, we ride, comrades! Thankfully, the bees are docile and peaceful, making no attempt to sting our dinky protags, because this is a kids’ movie, remember?
Well, isn’t this fun? Bees flitting across the island! ‘Nessa and Peeta and snuggled up on the same bee, while Mikey gets his own and ComRel and THE ROCK share one, too. You know that old saying, “It’s all fun and games until a giant bird craps on you?” It’s never been truer. A large, colorful bird (which Peeta OF COURSE identifies while he’s flying, including some brief info on the bird’s preferred diet: aphids, worms and bees) proceeds to chase our heroes after defecating on one character. Who do you think got the poopface? (Spoiler alert: It was ComRel. Of course.)
A bird chase ensues. Two more birds appear, and they are HUNGRY. Eventually, our birdfoes are outrun, but not before ‘Nessa plummets from the bee during an upward dash. The fall is given to us in slow motion (one of MANY slow-motion shots throughout) so we’re able to see Peeta’s brow ridge and cheekbones making ridiculous faces in slow-mo. ‘Nessa’s breasts remain unnaturally perky during her fall as well. She slows by hitting two leaves on a tree on the way down (ouch, right?), but Peeta saves her with a beedive heretofore unseen in cinema. ‘Nessa lands in his lap, and they give each other big smiles/lovey eyes.
Oh, no! One bird is still in hot pursuit! Everyone else dismounts their drone-stallions, but Peeta bravely forges ahead, diving through a spiderweb, where the bird gets caught and presumably eaten by a giant spider we barely see. (I’m leaving this part short for a reason; no giant arachnids ever need dicsussed.) Peeta unfortunately is caught by a branch and falls to the jungle floor, dislocating his ankle in the process. (Is it in Josh Hutcherson’s contract that he must be hurt in every film he does?) He proceeds to hop about on one foot for the remainder of the movie.
Back on the ground, we all meet up. THE ROCK and Mikey relocate Peeta’s ankle (THE ROCK is also medically trained, because why not?) while ComRel and ‘Nessa go off to find water. Two touching scenes ensue: THE ROCK strums a ukelele and sings “What A Wonderful World,” changing the lyrics to reflect the hilarity of their rapidly-deteriorating situation. Which is really hilarious, no: island sinking, imminent death? Laughs for days.
Meanwhile, ComRel does his best to play drama when he reveals that all he wants for ‘Nessa is to fulfill her dreams and go to college in America. They’re poor as dirt, natch, yet she manages to afford all the skin/hair care products in Pulau that keep her looking amazing. Nonetheless, he’ll make it happen, he says. He can make it happen.
The next morning, Peeta rolls over and his arm splashes in a puddle of water that wasn’t there before. THE ROCK quickly informs everyone that they only have two or three hours until the island drops beneath the waves. He forgot what he learned in the Navy’s advanced Island Sinking course, so he mixed up his time frame. “To the Nautilus,” shouts Mikey. But wait: ComRel is missing! Where has he gone? ‘Nessa figures it out quickly: the golden volcano! Because clearly, gold is more important than your life when you’re covered in lizard goo and bird crap.
Mikey and ‘Nessa head off in search of ComRel (Spoiler alert: they find him digging up a giant gold boulder that ‘Nessa convinces him to leave behind by saying, “When we’re together, we have all the wealth we’ll ever need.”) After they reunite, the trio heads to the coast, where they will be picked up by Peeta and THE ROCK in the Nautilus. By now, the island’s looking apocalyptic. Stormy, volcano-y…shit’s goin’ down. Literally.
Cut to Peeta and THE ROCK. They arrive where Nemo says the Nautilus should be, only to find ocean and rocky cliffsides. THE ROCK uses that ol’ Navy training and realizes that the sea level has risen one hundred feet in the past few hours, so they need to dive one hundred feet down to the Nautilus. He fashions makeshift scuba gear that offers them each two gulps of air (MacGyver, anyone?) and under the sea they go. After a scuffle with an electric eel (I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried), they make it into the sub. But: the 140-year old batteries are dead! Cue THE ROCK climbing outside and throwing a spear into that aforementioned electric eel to charge up the bats. (Spoiler alert: it works.)
Meanwhile, our trio is floating on a little chunk of rock (that wouldn’t be floating because last time I checked, rock sinks in water) and a wave knocks them under. Peeta, who minored in Ancient Submarine Navigation in Junior College, sweeps them up in the Nautilus’s gaping maw and we’re all saved!
After a sweet reunion, ‘Nessa sidles up to Peeta in the submarine while the other three watch uncomfortably: “Hey. I can’t believe we made it off that island.” (Second-best line in the movie.) They kiss, startling Peeta (and she subsequently misses a bit; she winds up kissing the upper left quadrant of his mouth). ComRel takes over the sub navigation duties, also possessing a bush degree in sub drivin’.
Is it over? NOOOOOOOO. Epilogue! My favorite.
6 months later:
ComRel is now rich and famous in Pulau, giving sub tours in the Nautilus. He calls his daughter multiple times a day.
‘Nessa has moved to America, is now driving and wearing fashionable trenchcoats, and is dating Peeta. She is presumably about to start college.
THE ROCK is back with his woman (finishing up her cameo appearance) and they’re all celebrating Peeta’s birthday. His shirts remain tight while Kristin Davis remains detached.
Peeta is less angsty and has decided to wear sweaters now, reflecting this attitude change. He is good at standing on his tiptoes to hug the taller members of his Vernian clan.
Mikey is not present…oh, wait! He shows up on a motorcycle in leather with a book for Peeta: Verne’s “From The Earth To The Moon.” He wants to take a family trip!
The camera zooms out the house skylight all the way to the MOON. (Journey 3 has already been greenlit.) Roll credits.