Why Journey 2: The Mysterious Island could be one of the most fun family movies of 2012

It features Dwayne Johnson flexing his pecs and riding around on a giant bee. Could Journey 2 prove to be next year’s most enjoyable family film?

By now, you may well have seen the trailer for Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.

Ostensibly a sequel to Journey To The Center Of The Earth, which proved a surprise hit back in 2008, it appears to have few ties to that film. Brendan Fraser’s bailed from the franchise, and Journey 2’s subtitle implies that it’s loosely based on another Jules Verne novel, The Mysterious Island, which was actually written as a follow-up to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and In Search Of The Castaways, and therefore has nothing to do with Journey To The Center Of The Earth at all.

Not that any of this matters – when a trailer opens with Luis Guzmán opening a helicopter full of chickens while Vanessa Hudgens stands pouting on a jetty, you know that literary accuracy is far from the filmmakers’ minds. What we have instead is a movie that revels in its own absurdity – and that’s certainly no bad thing.

A few weeks ago, Simon wrote about the rather depressing absence of light-hearted family movies from our cinemas – movies like Back To The Future, Explorers, or The Goonies, which appear to have been largely replaced by computer animated flicks and brooding comic book adaptations.

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Now, I’m not suggesting that Journey 2 will be of the same calibre as The Goonies or Back To The Future, but it most definitely looks like a lot of fun. In fact, as I watched the trailer for the first time, and initially scoffed at the bad CG and bad acting, I could feel my brain gradually realigning with the mindset of the Tango-drinking eight-year-old I once was.

Viewed from this perspective, Journey 2 looks fantastic. It’s got an entire island (“A Mysterious Island” Dwayne Johnson helpfully reminds us, as his eyes survey a CG landscape) full of dinosaurs, elephants, big butterfly-type things, and Sir Michael Caine as an eccentric explorer.

Ah yes, Michael Caine. Sir Mike’s late-career success, in everything from Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies and The Quiet American, has done much to paper over his mid-career appearances in a string of B-movies. But for some of us, such wonderfully bad films as The Swarm and Jaws: The Revenge are just as much fun to watch as his critically acclaimed ones.

It’s great, then, to see Caine so gamely appear in a film that sees The Rock performing a pectoral twitch dance and the entire cast riding about on the back of giant bees. In fact, given the panning The Swarm received back in the 70s, it’s slightly surprising that Caine would ever agree to appear on the same screen as a bee again, let alone take to the skies on the back of an over-grown one.

Nevertheless, here Caine is, in a film that gleefully throws lines like, “If we get torn to bits, I’m blaming you,” and, “In two weeks, we’ll be on the cover of Time magazine!”

In an age when even the broadest blockbusters are going for stern-faced seriousness, it’s refreshing to see a film that appears to buck the trend. Sure, its special effects don’t look particularly special (Johnson’s briefly seen holding a particularly iffy-looking baby elephant), and the acting among its young leads could be politely described as functional, but then, that could prove to be part of its charm.

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That Journey 2 is directed by Brad Peyton, last seen behind the camera of talking pet movie sequel Cats & Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore may count as a black mark against it for some people, but even this hasn’t put me off.

Journey 2 harks back not only to the time of 80s family movies mentioned earlier, but also further back, to a joyous 70s period of fantasy adventures such as The Land That Time Forgot and Warlords Of Atlantis – the sort of films I’d watch on TV on a Sunday afternoon after a large roast dinner. The sort of films that could mesmerise young audiences with little more than a few fading actors and a rubber monster or two. Films like this:

It’s odd to think of Dwayne Johnson as this century’s Doug McClure analogue, but if Journey 2 serves as nothing more than a big, dumb 90 minutes in the cinema, then it could well prove to be one of the most unexpectedly fun family films of next year.

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