The latest entry in Robert Rodriguez’s kid-friendly adventure franchise is as silly as the previous ones but lacks the celebrity cameos.
PLOT: When the children of the world’s greatest secret agents unwittingly help a powerful Game Developer unleash a computer virus that gives him control of all technology, they must become spies themselves to save their parents and the world.
REVIEW: Robert Rodriguez has always had two distinct film output: mature genre offerings aimed at adult audiences and family-friendly action flicks aimed at the youngest viewers. While Rodriguez’s Troublemaker Studios has used in-house special effects work to deliver pulpy flicks like Machete and the recent Hypnotic, the full-blown CGI worlds of the Spy Kids films have given the indie filmmaker a playground to make every childhood fantasy come to life. After four films centered on the Cortez family of spies, Rodriguez and his son Racer Max have written a franchise reboot centered on two new pint-sized agents as they use their knowledge of video games to save their parents and the world. Spy Kids: Armageddon is a decidedly low-budget affair that is bound to entertain only the youngest of viewers as it struggles to find the charm that the original cast brought to the first film in the series.
Spy Kids: Armageddon sticks very closely to the formula of the four prior entries in the franchise. The new multi-ethnic spy family here is the Tango-Torrez clan. Nora (Gina Rodriguez) and Terrence (Zachary Levi) are the parents and secret spies, taking over for Carla Gugino and Antonio Banderas, as well as Jessica Alba and Joel McHale. Nora and Terrence are parents to Patty (Everly Carganilla) and Tony (Connor Esterson), two precocious grade-schoolers who love video games and technology. Terrence has locked down their use of devices due to his fear of what technology can do in the wrong hands. Like their predecessors, Terrence and Nora work for OSS and report to Devlin (D.J. Cotrona taking over for George Clooney). Terrence invented the Armageddon Code, a powerful tool to hack any tech. That code is also what game designer Rey Kingston (Billy Magnussen) wants so that he can take over the world using his popular Lowscor and Hyscor video game franchise.
Once the Armageddon Code is stolen by Kingston, Patty and Tony become official OSS agents to rescue their parents as well as being way better at video games than the Boomers and Gen-Xers who run the spy agency. Conveniently, Terrence and Nora built a safe house full of training material, candy, and gadgets for the pint-sized kids to employ as master spies. From there, the film blends Robert Rodriguez’s prior films’ over-the-top action and pratfall comedy with the family-friendly CGI monsters of Kingston’s video game realm. Like the second and third films in the series, Spy Kids: Armageddon spends more than half of its running time inside a video game realm that looks cartoonish and not at all scary. If anything, the character design is a cross between the aesthetic of the prior movies mixed with an homage to Ray Harryhausen. The skeleton warriors were a highlight and reminded me of how fun old-school stop-motion was. While the skeletons are a fun and silly callback to Clash of the Titans, the CGI reminds me of just how silly the Spy Kids movies are.
The Spy Kids movies have always been aimed at a young audience and do not grow with their target viewers, meaning each sequel holds less nostalgia than the ones that came out when I was younger. Adults will groan at Zachary Levi and Billy Magnussen’s over-the-top performances, delivered so broadly that even the youngest watching can read the emotion on their faces. There is little subtext in movies like this, but Gina Rodriguez gives a solid performance that is easily the best in the whole movie. Unfortunately, the kids themselves are nowhere near the talent that Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara brought to the first movies. I hate to knock child actors, but these kids shift wildly from scene to scene. At one moment, they believably exist in this fantastical adventure, and in others, they sound like they are reading recipe instructions with out-of-character enthusiasm. Little kids may relate to these youthful protagonists, but adults will be left groaning at the poor quality of the overall story.
The silliness of the Spy Kids movies was always front and center, but it was offset by tons of famous faces gracing the movies in ridiculous roles. The star power of the first films is virtually nonexistent here, with none of the signature cameos that made the first movies bearable. While Zachary Levi is known as Shazam by most audiences, when he is the biggest star in the movie, you have a problem. None of Robert Rodriguez’s repertory players even make a brief appearance here. Even Cheech Marin or Danny Trejo could have boosted this movie a bit. Instead, there is nothing for grown-ups to latch onto as this movie skews towards the pre-teen set. Co-written with his son, Racer Max, Robert Rodriguez made this project a family affair. Like The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, based on an idea by Racer Max, Spy Kids: Armageddon is the most ridiculous movie that Rodriguez has made to date while still having credible production values, editing, and music.
Spy Kids: Armageddon is easily one of the weakest movies that Robert Rodriguez has directed and would never have warranted a big-screen release. Even as a Netflix original, Armageddon is less enjoyable than the prior entry to debut on the platform, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World. At least that movie tried something original by having only one of the parents be a spy. Here, the biggest twist is that one of the kids doesn’t want to be a spy because lying is wrong, but that conceit goes out the window once the action kicks into gear. Even at 97 minutes, this movie feels an hour too long and will not be fun for anyone but the youngest of viewers, and I think even they will be bored after half an hour. A weak movie in a franchise that should never have gone past one sequel, Spy Kids: Armageddon is not good at all.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/spy-kids-armageddon-review/