The Rock is here to guide you into manhood among the giant lizardsS

The Rock is here to teach you about being a man, while man-handling tiny elephants and riding around on giant bees. The Rock is strong but sensitive, and he's downright eager to guide you over the threshold into a new world of confusing sexuality, in which the scat of massive birds sprays all over people's faces and chests. You want a male role model who's not afraid to give advice about macking on girls, while in a cave full of mega-fauna? That's The Rock.

Basically, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is a year's worth of The Rock's lessons in masculinity, compressed magically into 90 minutes. Spoilers ahead...

Most movie sequels are variations on a theme, and Journey 2 is no exception. In Journey to the Center of the Earth, troubled youngster Sean (Josh Hutcherson) is sad because his dad went missing years ago, and then he goes on a journey with his uncle Trevor (Brendan Fraser) in which they bond and get in touch with their male bondingness, in the middle of being attacked by dinosaurs and stuff. It was a sturdy but ultimately forgettable adventure movie.

The Rock is here to guide you into manhood among the giant lizards

So in the sequel, Sean is still troubled, but now he's older and interested in girls and stuff. I think he's supposed to be like 15 or 16. (Hutcherson is actually 19, but in Hollywood that means he could still play a 12-year-old.) This time around, instead of Sean's dad being missing, it's Sean's grandfather (Michael Caine). And this time, Sean's surrogate father/companion is his stepdad, played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Once again, the result is a sturdy but forgettable adventure movie — except that this time, the action grinds to a halt fairly often, to make room for some ill-advised "comedy." And much of that comedy comes from The Rock teaching lessons in manhood that are... huh.

(Oh, and they live with Sean's mom, who doesn't really approve of this whole "going around the world on a wild goose chase" thing because moms don't get it. The mom doesn't go along on the big male-bondy adventure, choosing instead to stay home and bake a lot of muffins to give to them when they return. Or something. Whatever.)

Honestly, this sort of movie is review-proof. If you're the sort of person who thinks "a sequel to Journey to the Center of the Earth, starring The Rock" sounds like your kind of movie, you might like this film. I guess. Some kids in the audience when I watched it seemed to like it a lot. It's definitely the sort of movie that your kids drag you to. Or that you take your kids to, so they'll be quiet and eat popcorn for 90 minutes. Unlike some kid-oriented movies, there's not much for adults here, though.

The Rock is here to guide you into manhood among the giant lizardsS

The thing that drags Journey 2 down, though, is definitely the attempts at comedy — especially any scenes involving Luis Guzmán as Gabado, the pilot who takes Hutcherson and The Rock to the island. Guzmán has had a long and respectable career doing stuff I mostly haven't seen, but here he's mostly playing "the funny ethnic guy who gets put into humiliating situations and acts like an idiot." Guzmán's character is supposed to be the inferior example of manhood next to whom The Rock looks better, and he plays this up by acting as though he's in love with The Rock, and even trying to smooch him a couple times. (Guzmán is also on the receiving end of the aforementioned bird-poop bukkake.)

And from here on, we get slightly deeper into spoiler territory.

So yeah... the movie is about The Rock, and manhood, and what The Rock can teach Josh Hutcherson about talking to girls and taking responsibility and being a mensch. It's a fantasy about fatherhood and being a Good Man, in which men have to learn to step up to the plate. The Rock is very comfortable being a cartoon representation of masculinity, which is one reason I love him. In terrible movie after terrible movie, The Rock has always been at least good-natured and willing to laugh at himself — and his self-mockery shades over into self-parody here as he keeps nattering endlessly about how he can "pop his pecs."

Josh Hutcherson, of course, doesn't realize at first how lucky he is to have The Rock to teach him about manhood, and resists The Rock's authority. Meanwhile, there are two foils for The Rock — the aforementioned Guzmán, whose masculinity is undermined systematically throughout the film, except that he wants to do the right thing for his daughter (Vanessa Hudgens, whose job is to be cute). And then there's the grandfather, Michael Caine. Who turns up about one-third of the way through the movie.

Do you remember Michael Caine? He was in some movies back in the 1980s, like Blame it on Rio and Jaws: The Revenge, but I always wondered what happened to him after that. In any case, he's back with a vengeance in this film — few other actors could be quite this cheesetastic and ridiculous without actually putting live animals in their trousers. Caine clearly knows he's in a shitty movie, and his reaction is to ask himself: what can I do to make it worse?

Anyway, Michael Caine's role in the movie is to challenge The Rock's authority as main "male role model," by being kind of a supercillious prick. You'll be shocked, though, to hear that Michael Caine eventually accepts The Rock as the alpha male in this situation.

So, let's review. The Rock goes halfway around the world in a quest to prove that he can be the guy to teach Josh Hutcherson how to be manly. Along the way, he encounters setbacks — like he tries to ward off a giant lizard with a flare, and the lizard bites off The Rock's sparkling phallic symbol, at which point The Rock announces, "That's emasculating." (Just so we get it.) He encounters two other males, one of whom gets covered with a milky white substance as a kind of ritual emasculation, and the other of whom is proven to be too old and nutty. By the end of the film, the Rock faces one final challenge to prove that he's the best male role model: he has to grapple with a giant electric eel.

Yes, that's the final reel of the film: The Rock proving his worth as a stepfather once and for all, by pinning a giant eel with his big spear. It's not even symbolism, at that point. I love how Josh Hutcherson yelps, "DO IT NOW!" when The Rock tosses his big spear at the eel.

That's the backdrop against which The Rock tells Hutcherson how to woo Vanessa Hudgens, and generally gives him lessons in dudeliness. As movies about a surrogate dad going on a male-bonding adventure with kids, it's not terrible. (For a truly horrendous example of this subgenre, check out The Spy Next Door. It's like slow-motion trepanation.) If you absolutely have to take your kids to see a movie and they've already seen The Muppets and the Beauty and the Beast reissue and Tintin, then you could do worse than taking them to see Journey 2. I guess.