Journey 2 - Josh Hutcherson, Luis Guzmán, Vanessa Hudgens and Dwayne Johnson
Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson), Gabato (Luis Guzmán), his daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens) and Sean's stepdad Hank Parsons (Dwayne Johnson) don't like the looks of a gigantic offscreen lizard © 2012 Warner Bros

This imaginative, good-looking and kind of clever sequel to 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth should have been less jokingly corny and just a little more emotionally sincere. Still, it’s a welcome PG-audience alternative to typical comic-book adventure flicks about people beating each other up.

The only holdover actor is teen Josh Hutcherson as Sean Anderson, who accompanied his uncle on a quest to find Sean’s missing (and, as it turned out, deceased) father in the earlier movie. In the years since that film, Sean’s re-cast mother Elizabeth (Kristin Davis) has married ex-Navy construction engineer Hank Parsons (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and uprooted the now 17-year-old Sean to Dayton, Ohio. Sean has a bad attitude about the move, unreasonably resents his nice-guy new stepdad and yearns to be an explorer like the other menfolk in his family line.

Journey 2 - Michael Caine and Josh Hutcherson
Alexander Anderson (Michael Caine) shows grandson Sean (Josh Hutcherson) around the island's impressive ruins © 2012 Warner Bros

He gets his chance after receiving a coded message from his long-missing-in-action granddad Alexander Anderson (a crusty and smart-alecky Michael Caine). It seems that Journey to the Center of the Earth wasn’t the only Jules Verne fantasy novel with a basis in fact, because gramps says he has discovered the location of Verne’s The Mysterious Island. Skeptical about that claim but seeing an opportunity to bond with Sean, stepdad Hank agrees to accompany him to the South Pacific island’s map coordinates.

Reaching the dangerous location requires hiring hustling helicopter pilot Gabato (an appealingly goofy Luis Guzmán), whose co-pilot  is his lovely but level-headed teenage daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens).

The screenplay by Brian and Mark Gunn, from a story by them and Richard Outten, gives the unusually literate Andersons a respectful regard for the written word that would make a school librarian happy. Granddad Alexander reveals that Verne’s island is the same one referenced by Robert Louis Stevenson in Treasure Island and Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels.

The special effects on the beautifully scenic island, which include a pursuit by a monstrously huge lizard, a volcano that erupts pure gold, a herd of miniature elephants and a perilous voyage in Captain Nemo’s retro-futuristic submarine The Nautilus, are gorgeously executed.

At times the action goes from suspenseful to silly, such as when the characters climb aboard oversize bumblebees and ride them as if they are flying horses. And Sean overdoes the petulant immaturity act, giving his endlessly understanding stepdad way more spoiled-brat grief than seems reasonable. On the other hand, one of the most sophomoric lines in the movie also is the funniest. Fleeing the gargantuan lizard, simple-minded Gabato says, “I hope he don’t like food with poop in its pants!”

The artist formerly known as The Rock is as sunnily charming as usual, although a too-long scene in which he makes his pecs take turns “popping” under his T-shirt (which he tells Sean is a surefire way to attract girls) is borderline creepy.

Speaking of chests, the impressively firm-breasted Hudgens — who is attired throughout in a revealing pink tank-top — is the movie’s reward for daddies who give up an afternoon to accompany their kids to the multiplex. (Wait, what was that I said about “borderline creepy?”)

[Rating: 3.5 stars]

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island opened in Theaters in Austrailia on January 19. In the UK it opens February 3 and in US and Canada on February 10, 2012.

James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.