The specter of George Lucas looms large over Journey 2: The Mysteries Island, not only because of a Yoda reference, a cheesy underwater-spaceship sequence that resembles a segment of Episode One, and a finale that recalls the Millennium Falcon’s Return of the Jedi escape from the Death Star, but more fundamentally still, because of its infatuation with brightly colored, laughably phony-looking CGI. Brad Peyton’s sequel to 2008’s lame Journey to the Center of the Earth prizes computer-generated wizardry above logical plotting or thoughtful character development, a misguided set of priorities exacerbated by the fact that said digital effects prove so chintzy. Rarely has a big-studio feature integrated real-world figures into artificial landscapes with this little grace, an issue compounded by 3D that further heightens the sense of separation between flesh-and-blood protagonists and synthetic environments and baddies. It’s akin to being trapped in a candy-colored pop-up book kids’ version of Avatar, except that instead of a Dances with Wolves-redux tale that takes itself oh-so-seriously, here it’s a slow-motion-obsessed spectacle of giant butterflies, tiny elephants, gargantuan lizards, miniature sharks, and, most unpleasant of all, the sight of biceps-bulging Dwayne Johnson bouncing berries off his flexing pectorals directly at one’s glasses-adorned eyes.
Because Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island apparently didn’t suffice as source material, Journey 2 combines that tale with Treasure Island and Gulliver’s Travels, all of which were apparently inspired by the same titular mass of Pacific Ocean land, to which young Sean (Josh Hutcherson) travels alongside stepfather Hank (Johnson) by following a coded message sent by grandfather Alexander (Michael Caine). Once there courtesy of a helicopter ride from Gabato (Luis Guzmán) and his daughter, Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens), Hank ascertains that the island is sinking due to “soil liquification,” which inspires a race-against-time escape almost as lazily conceived as Hank and Alexander’s contentious banter and Hank and Sean’s strained relationship. During their adventure, adults learn to be more engaged parental role models and kids come to accept their elders’ love and support, while painful comedic relief Gabato suffers enormous bird poop in the face while riding a steroidal bee and Hank makes up Mysterious Island-specific lyrics to “What a Wonderful World” while strumming the ukulele. As fake-looking explosions and beasts impede the heroes’ passage to Nemo’s submarine, the cast proves incapable of selling its cornball dialogue (sample: “We’ll have all the wealth we’ll ever need, just as long as we’re together!”) and Caine, in particular, mugs it up with a goofy-eyed grin that’s borderline-demented. The result is a whirligig of cheesy nonsense best fit, like the island itself, for the bottom of the ocean.