For a certain generation of movie fan, the list of the best sequels in cinema history has to extend beyond “The Godfather Part II,” straight into another intergenerational saga of children bearing the emotional weight of their parents’ legacy. That film, of course, is “Spy Kids 2: The Lost Island of Dreams.”
Yes, Robert Rodriguez’s beloved kid-centric franchise, which first high-kicked its way into theaters in 2001, still holds a very special spot in the heart of many millennial-Gen-Z-cuspers, at least as it applies to their take on “classic cinema.” So when Rodriguez, in partnership with Skydance, Spyglass, and Netflix, announced a reboot in 2022, this reviewer was skeptical (and, sadly, now an actual adult).
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But, thanks to an odd (if not uninspired) combination of Fortnite, “Tron,” and even a dash of the sensibilities of “Mission: Impossible,” Rodriguez’s “Spy Kids: Armageddon” meets expectations. It’s a cute, family-centric movie geared to the Gen Alpha kids of today who were raised on iPads and Nintendo Switches. (Yes, we had to look up what generation follows Gen Z; the more you know.)
Directed by Rodriguez from a script he co-wrote with own son Racer Max, “Spy Kids: Armageddon” is more or less is a modernized remake of the first film (and, yes, with the original film now over 20 years old, there are still things here to modernize). Super-spies Nora Torrez (Gina Rodriguez) and Terrence Tango (Zachary Levi) are attempting to lead a normal life while also being frequently dispatched to save the world, while also parenting kids Patty (Everly Carganilla) and Tony (Connor Esterson), both of whom have developed some sleuthing skills of their own, all the better to sneak around their whipsmart folks.
Tony is obsessed with popular video game Hyskor, and when the villains of the game come to life to attack his very own parents, Tony’s knowledge of the rules of the game suddenly become very necessary (plus, he has to stop a skeleton key computer code from getting out into the world, shades of “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One”!). Hyskor developer Rey “The King” Kingston (Billy Magnussen) is determined to avenge his own father, who incidentally created the titular Armageddon code before perishing as part of a mission that the Torrez-Tango parents (incidentally!) completed.
On the anniversary of Rey’s father’s death, he steals the Armageddon code back from Terrence, who has been using it to infiltrate the tech of evil masterminds for years. Yes, that plot seems eerily similar to the latest “Mission: Impossible” film, and Rodriguez’s feature includes even more winks toward the camera (the kinda that original “Spy Kids” stars Carla Gugino and Antonio Banderas already mastered). Magnussen’s turn as the whiny, evil mastermind is even teased to return in a possible follow-up. Still, two decades on, this “Spy Kids” is more focused on the role of technology in the home (and world) than silly euphemisms between married adults and eye-rolling kids.
As delightful as Levi and Rodriguez prove to be together, “Armageddon” thoroughly belongs to fresh faces Esterson and Carganilla, taking over for Daryl Sabara and Alexa PenaVega. The kids’ respective performances feel relatable, authentic, and above all, fun, making “Armageddon” the type of children’s movie where a young audience member could see themselves onscreen, no doubt agreeing with Tony’s disdain for rules around when he can play video games. The film needs more family time, however, with the Torres-Tango family not being seen as a whole unit until the third act, when they literally enter the Hyskor game to save the planet from evil tech (and, yes, this movie was made before the WGA and SAG strikes over A.I.).
With its video games references and exciting spy elements (a super-tech mobile! an underwater safe house! gadgets!), “Armageddon” will certainly appeal to kids today, the kind that fall into the pre-tween age group who still dream about joining the CIA. As spy boss Devlin (D.J. Cotrona) says at the end of the film, it’s simply onto the next mission for the “Spy Kids” family. Will that sequel rival “Spy Kids 2”? Stay tuned.
“Spy Kids: Armageddon” is now streaming on Netflix.
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