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‘Spy Kids: Armageddon’ Review: A Little Less Magic but Just as Much Heart as Its Predecessor

‘Spy Kids: Armageddon’ is a heartfelt and trouble-free adventure that almost lives as much as the unique series.

In the early 2000s, Robert Rodriguez penned and directed the unique Spy Kids franchise. Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara starred as two children whose lives change overnight once they discover that their parents are literally secret agents working for the OSS — the Organization of Super Spies. (Such non-discrete nomenclature for a top-secret enterprise really helped the franchise dig its feet into the young goal demographic.) As for his or her parents, they were gloriously portrayed by Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino, who brought heightened passion and playfulness to the combat-ready yet often incautious agents. 

The 2023 reboot revisits the unique franchise’s premise, replicating its predecessor’s formula in making a high-stakes mission for the brave-hearted rugrats, Tony (Connor Esterson) and Patty (Everly Carganilla). They must step in when their parents are captured to stop the cartoon-like villain, The King (Billy Magnussen,) from gameifying the world via a far-reaching virus that offers him control over all technology. How will the baddie accomplish this: via the Armageddon code, which belongs to, you guessed it, our spy kids’ mom and pops (Zachary Levi and Gina Rodriguez). 

Fans of the unique franchise will appreciate the wacky weaponry and goofy gadgetry that defy all scientific capabilities but lend approach to an adventurous high-stakes mission that never feels all-too-threatening. Instead of guns and bombs, we’ve got ultra-sticky goop with indestructible adhesive (once activated) and explosives that, when detonated,  could make your opponent super hungry, cute, or giggly. Remember: that is, at first, a children’s movie. Thus, ensuring that the youngsters all the time feel virtually unassailable, even within the presence of danger, is a must. 

It’s clear that Rodriguez is back on the helm, for the film retains the unique’s use of adults as extraneous participants who, despite years of coaching and advanced IQs, cannot appear to concoct a greater plan than a single-digit preadolescent. It’s a matter of suspending disbelief and having fun with the ride — a ride that has kids teaching adults lessons about morality and righteousness. 

The film, though geared toward children, does tackle super relevant themes — including the threat technology presents to young minds. And, Rodriguez exploits this very relevant subtext to create a threat that children are best equipped to confront — a video game mastermind. Is the sport the issue, or the creator? 

Everly Carganilla as Patty in 'Spy Kids: Armageddon'
Everly Carganilla as Patty in ‘Spy Kids: Armageddon’ | Netflix/Tudum

As for the sport’s creator, in walks Billy Magnussen’s “The King,” who boasts that tried-and-true villainous smirk and cringey baddie dialogue paying homage to the villains in the unique franchise. Yet, he’s a bit less animated and lacks the visual absurdity akin to Alexander Minion, who boasted three clay-like faces extending from his primary head. The King is more a CGI-age villain, whose castle responds to his whims and demands. He can create chairs from cement blocks within the partitions and stairs miraculously appear when he must descend from a threatening height. 

This shift, though comprehensible within the age of CGI, strips away among the magic inherent to the unique franchise. Back then, the villains were built from the bottom up via ingenious costume designers and make-up artists. Who could forget the Thumb-Thumbs — whose bodies were comprised entirely of thumbs — or the Timekeeper — who had an antique mini Grandfather clock where a head ought to be? The practical effects augmented the franchise’s playful atmosphere — each installment seemingly one-upping the last within the ridiculous imagery department.

Billy Magnussen as The King in 'Spy Kids: Armageddon | Netflix/Tudum
Billy Magnussen as The King in ‘Spy Kids: Armageddon | Netflix/Tudum

In Spy Kids: Armageddon, the villains are appropriately video-game-esque (as that’s their origin), but it surely’s abundantly clear that they’re entirely computer-generated. We get walking skeletons and highly-armed mega guards who’re nowhere near as inventive because the Spy Kids villain of yesteryear. Some of the villains are dressed-up actors, but even they only resemble basic warriors. 

While the child-aimed weaponry and gadgetry help compensate for this, we still miss the likes of Alan Cumming’s exuberant Fegan Floop, whose name alone is more buoyant than the “King” and his computerized henchman — let alone his charming, musically-inclined performance that Magnussen cannot compete with. 

While our villainous threats leave much to be desired within the visual originality department, they are only as redeemable as their now decades-old foes. In Spy Kids fashion, the youngsters teach the old folks a lesson in second probabilities and leading with compassion. 

The villains learn to be higher, as do the parents. The simplicity of the kid mind — innocence, trust, and wonder — and the unjaded belief that folks can change is at the center of this film. The movie just isn’t about leaving the bad guy behind in a fiery explosion or locking him away for all eternity. It’s about him growing and learning that society is redeemable without force — should you are patient and understanding. And, the parents learn just a little something about putting away the fisticuffs and loading their arsenals with hugs and words of encouragement.

Is it a bit far-fetched and rosy? Is it more fantastical than the very weapons at play? Maybe so, but it surely’s also the exact same fuzzy ingredient that propelled the unique franchise, which left an indelible mark on the now-millennials who will likely be tuning in for this nostalgic trip down memory lane. 

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