There are movies for children, and then there are childish movies. The latest directorial venture of American director Robert Rodriguez titled Spy Kids: Armageddon seems to be way more tilted towards the latter type. Rodriguez has his own niche in filmmaking. He started with the Mexican milieu that he knew so well and made films such as El Mariachi and Desperado, and later went on to direct cult classics such as From Dusk Till Dawn and his masterpiece Sin City. His films are so different from one another that one look at his IMDb page will tell us that he isn’t interested in telling similar stories. Yet he seems to have a strong affinity with the Spy Kids universe. He directed the first one in 2001 and then made three more sequels in the coming years, with the last one being released in 2011. He has now returned with the fifth installment, which is a reboot of the whole franchise. The new movie does improve on the franchise’s earlier ventures with better VFX, but the storytelling style seems stuck in the previous decade. It has to be said that this franchise has made over 300 million dollars worldwide, and this proves that the movies were well received previously, which is why perhaps a reboot has arrived.
The Spy Kids franchise has always revolved around a family unit. The reboot is no different. Here too, there’s a family where the mom and dad are spies, and the kids become part of the spy universe as the movie unfolds. There were some famous actors in the previous installment of this franchise, and this new one has performers such as Shazam. Zachary Levy plays the roles of the dad, Terrence Tango, and the mom of the house, Nora Torrez, is played by the star of the comedy series Jane the Virgin, Gina Rodriguez. Then there are the cute kids. Connor Esterson plays Tony Tango-Torrez and Everly Carganilla plays Patty Tango-Torrez. Now, Rodriguez treats this family unit in more or less the same way he did in the previous installments. The plot begins by setting up the Tango-Torrez household. The futuristic vision is fascinating and later becomes an intriguing plot point. The villain comes in the form of game developer Rey Kingston, whose game Hyskor takes over all the automated machines in the world like a virus. People are unable to access anything without first succeeding in Kingston’s game. Here, the kids’ ability to easily cross the games’ levels comes in handy, and they are sucked into their parents’ espionage universe, trying to retrieve a powerful key known as ‘Armageddon’.
Zachary Levy plays Terrence like a strict authoritarian figure in the beginning but later turns into a bumbling father, a figure seen many times in pop culture. Gina is seen over-enunciating every word she says in the film as Nora. The Spy Kids franchise has never been known to be subtle in anything it does. Neither with the story nor with its characters. The kids are always fun to watch, as nobody can seem so effortlessly vulnerable on film as much as they can. The villain played by Billy Magnussen is not a terrifying figure. The film is so aware of its target audience that it never once takes a risk to go down a darker path. Rey Kingston as a villain is only there to set up the conflict of the movie and to show up at the end for Rodriguez to nicely flesh out the theme of the movie. The vibrant colors make the movie look like multicolored candy. The kids will definitely want a piece of it.
Coming back to the simplistic part of the film, it has to be said that there are great messages hidden in the story, but as usual, they are too on the nose. The theme of family is a crucial one, and later in the second half, the siblings’ bond was given preference over their rivalry. I understand that a film such as this cannot, or rather, is not made to tackle complex issues or themes, but everything is crammed into the dialogue. The visuals remain colorful, but many of them lack meaning. Children are often subliminally affected by a powerful and meaningful image that may be very colorful and yet retain its potency when it comes to storytelling. It seems the film wants nostalgic viewers to reminisce about the first movie that came out in 2001 and, at the same time, showcase its special effects and a more polished AI universe suited for children. There is a message to always be truthful and honest, even in the most dire circumstances, which is how life grants ‘extra rewards’ that weren’t even mentioned in any ‘rulebook’. Apart from the thematic elements, the visual elements had some issues. There are some sequences where the action gets a little haywire, with characters walking in steps where there is apparently no path to walk on.
Rodriguez, who co-wrote this film with his son Racer Max, said that this film brought him closer to his son. I’m not disputing that. It surely must have. The final impact of the film doesn’t bring out a personal touch, though. The family helping each other out is a template that is not disturbed by the previous films. There seems to be no special father-son angle that was given attention. The film ensures that emotions don’t spill over, but I feel as if they had. In the hands of Rodriguez, who is a veteran filmmaker, those scenes could have been given a shape that was suited for kids’ viewing. Spy Kids: Armageddon will surely take you down a memory lane if you have been a fan of the series. You may enjoy this one as well, as it checks all the points on the list that viewers might be expecting. It just didn’t go any further. Kids may love it, and you might love the film after seeing your kids get enchanted. It’s not for any other demographic, I’m afraid.