Wasted potential is what I felt leaving the cinema after Journey 2: The Mysterious Island - there are lots of good ingredients here, but the end product is way off the mark.
The plot centres around Sean Anderson (Hutcherson), a Jules Verne fanatic - or Vernian - who believes that the stories the lauded writer, known as the Father of Science Fiction, created are not imaginary, but fact. Sean intercepts a Morse code, which he believes will lead him to the island Verne wrote of in The Mysterious Island, published in 1874.
Sean's stepfather Hank (Johnson), who is struggling to bond with the rebellious youth, helps him to decode the message, which gives the location of the mythical island.
When Sean insists on following the signal in the hope of finding the island and his grandfather - an adventurer who has gone missing in search of the same island - Hank agrees on the condition that he accompanies him. On their way to Palau, in the Pacific Ocean, Sean and Hank team up with a helicopter pilot (Guzmán) and his beautiful daughter (Hudgens).
The ingredients are all there: Verne's stories are some of science fiction's most famous and the cast is big hitting – Michael Caine and Luis Guzmán's CVs are peppered with solid supporting performances in superb films. Added to that is the clearly huge budget, which in the right hands could have created a magical CGI world to spark a child's imagination into life and entrance an adult also.
The problem is that it's all just a bit lazy. The script is predictable and corny – although The Rock has some wonderfully cheesy one-liners such as "I love lizards and bats - as belts." Admittedly, some of the CGI-use is excellent, and in those moments Journey 2 shines.
Hudgens could have been given a kickass heroine's role but is stereotyped as a nerdy-yet-cool leading lady – there's even a slow-motion shot of her shaking her hair included in her first scene. She has undoubted screen presence, however, and with the right guidance, she could soon pick challenging and worthy scripts to work on. Her co-star Hutcherson does a bad impression of James Dean and Caine phones in his role as the missing grandfather.
If the script had been tightened up and made more unique, allied to more time spent on the CGI, this really could have been excellent and entered Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) territory. Instead, it's more like the old British TV series The Crystal Maze – albeit on an island.
A great children's film transcends being a children's film and becomes a film for all ages, with jokes that transfer to one-and-all and genuinely engaging drama. Journey 2 doesn't achieve this.
That said, kids below eight years of age will be spellbound by the mysterious creatures and flora that inhabit the island and the carefree abandon of an adventure in search of hidden worlds. Older kids will ask why you didn't bring them to see Hugo again. For an example of how to do creative family movies right, go and rent Holes (2003) on DVD.