Spy Kids: Armageddon, 2023.
Directed by Robert Rodríguez.
Starring Gina Rodriguez, Zachary Levi, Connor Esterson, Everly Carganilla, D.J. Cotrona, Billy Magnussen, Joe Schilling, Robert Rodriguez, Solar Dena Bennett, Fabiola Andújar, and Neal Kodinsky.
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, leading them to become spies themselves to save their parents and the world.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, Spy Kids: Armageddon wouldn’t exist.
It is a stunning realization that Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids: Armageddon (a resurrection of the series that fashions the legacy children spies as a modern-day married couple played by Zachary Levi and Gina Rodriguez, now with kids of their own but still secretly working missions) is also co-written by his 20-something-year-old son, Racer Rodriguez (who received a story credit for The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D before he was 10 years old), considering how bygone the story and visuals feel with its video game-centric plot and influence. One would presume someone on the younger side like that would have their fingers closer to the pulse.
This is ostensibly a kids’ movie, which is fine (no one is expecting storytelling greatness here), but that demographic most likely is not going to understand jokes about the Nintendo 64 James Bond first-person shooter classic GoldenEye, or antiquated game structures such as beating “levels” rather than exploring vast open worlds (which is all the rage in the current landscape of the industry.) It could be argued that this is part of the point since the narrative involves Patty and Terry Tango-Torrez running into a wall, reaching their operative limitations when a celebrity game developer hacker (Billy Magnussen) steals half of the titular Armageddon program, a digital hacking device that can infest and unlock any technological device. To their credit, Zachary Levi and Gina Rodriguez occasionally have funny comedic delivery and lines.
All electronic devices have been restricted through a firewall, forcing users to complete a video game task in Rey ‘The King’ Kingston’s latest popular fantasy game (which is embarrassingly generic and could very well be inspired by Dark Souls or one of its offshoots, except for the fact that there is nothing here that would remotely suggest the filmmakers know what those games are) before access is granted. Naturally, the adults struggle to overcome these challenges, whereas the children drive (which feels backward and ageist in a world where older males and females are gamers, but that’s putting too much thought into something simply striving to be silly and fun.)
Nevertheless, Patty and Terry’s gamer children Tony and Nora (Connor Esterson and Everly Carganilla) end up at a safe house where they discover the true occupation of their parents, practice on a training course with spy costumes, and set off to save their parents locked up in an underground lair (essentially meant to be a final boss dungeon.) Admirably, this story puts into question the principle of spies and whether or not lying is necessary, not to mention whether or not something as technologically powerful as the Armageddon code should exist.
Unfortunately, the film fails to capitalize on the tantalizing wacky premise of a world where everyone must interact with a video game to use technology or interestingly explore why The King has chosen this method for world domination (his reasoning starts silly and only gets clichéd and dumber.) Although the script from Robert and Racer Rodriguez is awkward, outdated, and seemingly ignorant as to what modern-day gaming is like, subsequently letting down their child actors (who are endearing and cute nonetheless), a far bigger issue is that, as the story continues to become more action-oriented and embrace this fantasy world, the CGI is everywhere and monumentally hideous. The last 30 minutes are filled with so many unconvincing special effects that the movie may as well be a video game from the early 2000s.
Aside from the fact that the clear target demographic of children is probably not going to be entertained or fall for a film that’s trying too hard to appeal to them, they are also not stupid and will recognize a false representation of modern-day gaming and nerdom (an important secondary component of this game are trading cards, which don’t seem to be popular at all anymore). Movies have historically failed at accurately portraying video games and the characters playing them on screen, but there is a crippling problem when it feels fake, and the entire film is grounded in that activity. Perhaps Spy Kids: Armageddon will be the end for a series that maybe shouldn’t have been given a Phoenix Down (see, now I’m referencing old games in a movie featuring modern gaming.)
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com