With new material, Rodriguez can have a mega-hit like Spy Kids again; unfortunately, he is stifled by the same flat ideas and repetitive choices.
- Spy Kids: Armageddon is a nostalgic installment in the franchise, meant to introduce a new generation of kids to the series.
- The film follows a familiar formula, with a new spy family and video game-themed plot, but lacks the charisma and chemistry of the original cast.
- While visually lacking, the movie is broadly fun and carries a hearty message for younger viewers, earning a solid B in holding attention.
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The spy kids are back… again. Spy Kids: Armageddon is the fifth installment of the Spy Kids franchise following 2011’s Spy Kids: All the Time in the World. This time, we meet a new spy family out to save the world. Nora Torrez (Gina Rodriguez) and Terrence Tango (Zachary Levi) are currently the world’s greatest spies for the OSS, and they are the parents to Antonio “Tony” Torrez-Tango (Connor Esterson) and Patricia “Patty” Torrez-Tango (Everly Carganilla), who are unaware that their truth-preaching parents are lying to them about being spies. The whole charade comes crashing down on them when Tony accidentally helps a game developer unleash a potentially deadly computer virus through his advanced video game. Now, the kids must suit up and save the world via a virtual reality video game. And no, this is not Spy Kids: Game Over.
Before we get into the brunt of this review, I should note that this film’s sole purpose is to be for a new generation of kids. That is reflected in the fact that writer-director Robert Rodriguez, the father of this franchise, brings us this latest installment with the help of his son Racer Max, who co-wrote the film with him. Much like the 2011 film – which understandably could not continue as those kids have grown up considerably and have careers that are no longer aligned with the Spy Kids franchise – Armageddon gives us a fresh new family minus any cameos from the original cast. This is intentional; while Spy Kids: Armageddon is nostalgic, it’s meant to be for fresh new eyes — those who are unaware or uninterested in the original series. That being said, the film does just scream, “Watch the original!”
Spy Kids: Armageddon follows some overly familiar beats. We have a family that is part Latinx — Gina Rodriguez carries that torch, with Zachary Levi as her partner and father of her children, each of whom harbors opposing personalities. The children, just like Carmen and Junie, represent their parent’s cultural backgrounds. Only Spy Kids: All the Time in the World broke this formula, though the visual dynamic of the family remained eerily similar. And just like every film before it, Armageddon has the kids, who have been bamboozled all their short lives, suit up to become spies to save their parents, who have been captured by some evil entity. The familiarity continues with the story, with Rodriguez, inspired by his children’s ideas, revisiting the video game angle with the big bad, who uses the extremely popular pastime to take over the world. Rodriguez felt the need to address the state of video games 20 years after his biggest Spy Kids film — Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over — and, in fairness, a lot has changed with how video games and technology impact our lives.
The movie is broadly fun, despite it being visually flat and far too artificial looking for its own good, but there has been a notable improvement in the CGI since the days of Game Over. The movie is maybe 20 minutes too long, however, but with the cute children carrying the movie with semi-endearing dialogue and a hearty message for the younger generation to take in, Armageddon earns a solid B in holding our attention. The key to such a movie is balancing the visual spectacle with a charismatic cast to carry the ridiculous premise. Spy Kids: Armageddon partially succeeds with the visual aspects, but fumbles the bag when it comes to casting and writing.
The kids are precocious enough, but they aren’t given new or interesting material; they’re just reworking the dynamics the OG spy kids had. Rodriguez and Levi are big, notable names, but neither hold a candle to the charisma and chemistry of Carla Gugino and Antonio Banderas. Admittedly, we should recognize now that their steamy romance will never be replicated in a children’s movie, thanks to the cultural shift where adults apparently having personalities and lives outside of being just parents is wrong for children to see. Here, Rodriguez and Levi are ostensibly the opposite of Gugino and Banderas; they possess roommate energy. The light sprinkle of Latine music that is queued up for Levi’s grand entrance expects us to make some subconscious connection to the smoldering hot spy Banderas played, but it only induces laughter from embarrassment. Needless to say, the casting here is bland, which does the flat script no favors. Ultimately, Rodriguez cannot break from the archetypes and formula that he perfected in the original trilogy, as we now have back-to-back sequels that cannot recapture the witty, zany, yet heartfelt fun of the original films and the charm of its original cast.
Robert Rodriguez is responsible for crafting some pop culture hits. As maligned as The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is, it doesn’t negate the fact that it has been a staple of many people’s childhoods. When we look back at it, it’s with fondness. There is a reason he revisited that with We Can Be Heroes. Spy Kids was a phenomenon, becoming one of cinema’s most influential trilogies. It isn’t always highly regarded or considered one of the best, but its cultural impact outpaces many critically acclaimed trilogies. So, it’s very disappointing to witness Rodriguez circle the drain with redundant additions that don’t add anything to the Spy Kids experience. As noted before, Armageddon follows that same formula but is catered to the iPad-wielding generation of kids who would enjoy the original regardless of its age. It’s silly, fun, and enjoyable but lacks the texture and vitality of the original film.
Spy Kids: Armageddon is creatively deficient. With each new Spy Kids project, Rodriguez mines an empty cave; there is nothing but dirt and hopeless dreams. We live in a nostalgia-obsessed era, so there is no reason for Spy Kids to be impacted. But no matter the generation, Spy Kids will always be entertaining and nostalgic as it is timeless. Will Spy Kids: Armageddon entertain the children of today? Sure. But Rodriguez and co. should aim higher and move away from franchise building. As Rodriguez has already given us a lot of great entertainment for kids and families, fresh ideas are the only way to meaningfully expand his brand within children and family entertainment. We Are Heroes, the standalone film that was also a legacy sequel to The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, is an example of taking two steps forward and one step back, but it was at least a step in the right direction. With new material, Rodriguez can have a mega-hit like Spy Kids again. Unfortunately, he is stifled by the same flat ideas and repetitive choices right now.
Spy Kids: Armageddon is now streaming on Netflix. It is 108 minutes long and rated PG for sequences of action.