Robert Rodriguez is single-handedly responsible for crafting the childhood of so many kids growing up through the late 90s and 2000s. Movies like El Mariachi, Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Once Upon a Time in Mexico ran on a loop in every house (including mine). But due to its violent content, you had to keep switching between channels to avoid getting caught watching some of the risque scenes. In addition to that, there were the Spy Kids movies, which truly captured the imagination of how children would see themselves as superheroes. Yes, they’ve been criticized for their janky visual effects and CGI, but that didn’t stop them from being nothing short of modern classics, especially Spy Kids 3: Game Over. Rodriguez went on to make several films, TV shows, and music videos. However, for the first time since 2003, it seems like he has sat down to converse with Game Over through Spy Kids: Armageddon.
Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids: Armageddon, which he has co-written with his son Racer Max, follows spy couple Nora Torrez and Terrence Tango. They work at the franchise’s iconic spy agency, the OSS (Organization of Super Spies), under the jurisdiction of Devlin. Terrence and Nora heavily rely on an all-purpose digital key called Armageddon, which can unlock anything in the world, but they monitor their children, Tony and Patty, especially when it comes to their use of electronic devices. But since Tony is a big fan of video games, he keeps finding ways to get access to his devices and play Loskor, which is game developer Rey ‘The King’ Kingston’s most popular product. Tony also has a habit of playing dishonestly because he thinks that the world is an unfair place. He cheats to get a chance to play Rey’s latest release, Hyskor. However, that video game ends up being a ploy by Rey to get a hold of the Armageddon so that he can make the whole world dance to his tunes.
The Spy Kids movies can seem like they aren’t high on themes as they are largely aimed at kids, but the franchise’s very premise is very forward-thinking: adults fumble, and kids one-up them every step of the way. I don’t know if this is the case because Rodriguez came up with these movies during the IT boom, where millennials were getting high-paying jobs right after finishing their education and earning more than their boomers, or if it’s just something instinctive, but it’s quite inspiring. Much like the previous films, Rodriguez incapacitates the parents pretty early on in Spy Kids: Armageddon, thereby forcing the kids to put the problem-solving skills they’ve acquired from video games (something that the parents hate) to the test. Since tech-savvy billionaires make up for the majority of real-life villains, The King has a certain degree of relevance as he holds the world hostage after forcing everyone to adapt to his technology. He has the money to “cure” the world, but he takes this obtuse way to implement it. That said, much like his predecessors, The King isn’t a villain; he’s an antagonist because his execution is incorrect, but his intentions are good.
The King in Spy Kids: Armageddon very much feels like an updated version of The Toymaker from Spy Kids 3. Since it was the 2000s, in that movie, Rodriguez did the cliche thing of saying that videogames are bad, that they corrupt the minds of children, and that it’s better to stay in our physical reality than lose yourself in a virtual reality. It’s 2023, and virtual reality and video games have become more mainstream than ever before. So, through the rivalry between Patty, Tony, and The King, Rodriguez seems to be retracting that statement while keeping things relatively wholesome. He isn’t saying that we should totally embrace virtual reality because the stuff that’s analog always comes in handy when everything else fails. Instead, he’s saying that video games and augmented reality can be educational and reformative, if they’re in the right hands, of course. However, if one wants to get educated and set off on the path of self-correction, then they can’t take shortcuts because the results will be incomplete and, hence, pointless. The honest route will be tedious and challenging, but the results will certainly be satisfying and long-lasting. And that’s an important message for kids as well as adults, to be honest.
A lot has been said about Robert Rodriguez and his specific visual style, especially when it comes to his kid-friendly movies. Look, the guy made the Sin City movies with Frank Miller. So he gets a lifetime free pass. In addition to that, Rodriguez’s use of VFX and CGI in those two movies is proof of the fact that nothing in the Spy Kids movies is unintentional or a result of budgetary restraints. They look the way they do because that’s what Rodriguez and his team want. Although Spy Kids 3 is lambasted for its visuals, you have to be an idiot to not realize that the film accurately replicates the aesthetics of video games from the 2000s. And it seems like Rodriguez is unfazed by the criticisms, as he says through The King that visual effects peaked in the 2000s. I have to agree with him because the push for photorealism and utter lack of eccentricity are getting boring. Meanwhile, Rodriguez is here, making me nostalgic about Revenge of the Sith by setting his final battle on a lava river with a version of Carmina Burana’s “O Fortuna” playing in the background. Heck, Knight looks unrealistic and yet great. The action choreography, the songs, and the pacing are impeccable. It’s fun!
When it comes to the performances, the bar was set too high by Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Antonio Banderas, and Carla Gugino. All of them were so likable and charismatic that it made the viewing experience so enjoyable and memorable. Zachary Levi and Gina Rodriguez do not commit to the act. They seem to be too aware of the fact that they are in a made-for-kids movie. They are right on the brink of looking at the camera and winking at us, which isn’t a good sign. Billy Magnussen, who is far more restrained than them, fits right in. There’s no sense of irony, and it seems like he truly believes that his games can change the world, and that makes it a good performance. The movie rests on the shoulders of Connor Esterson and Everly Carganilla, though, and they truly knock it out of the park. Their sibling chemistry is truly off the charts. Esterson effortlessly portrays Tony’s conniving nature and his transformation into an honest individual due to Patty’s advice. Everly essays Patty’s aversion towards dishonesty really well. And the ease with which she shows up the adults is simply hilarious. I know that the movie is a reboot, but I did miss the signature Danny Trejo cameo. I’m sure Rodriguez has his reasons.
In conclusion, Spy Kids: Armageddon is an expectedly fun romp with a relevant message about video game culture and the uptick in the use of augmented reality. I know that Rodriguez usually has his hands full, but I sincerely hope that he gets to shape the imagination of a new generation of kids with this new chapter of the Spy Kids saga. It’s a shame that, unlike the first four films, this one’s not releasing on the big screen and hence can’t be enjoyed by the community. I hope that kids as well as adults do watch the film on Netflix because there’s something in it for everybody. Additionally, I hope that major studios look at Rodriguez’s films as they fiendishly wait out the strikes happening in Hollywood and learn that it’s better to let directors express their unique visual style instead of making everything look fake in the name of photorealism. Anyway, what you have read is just my opinion. Please check out Spy Kids: Armageddon for yourself, form your own opinion, and feel free to share your thoughts with us.