To be scrupulously fair to the sensibilities of its target audience, I must admit that halfway through this movie my 8-year-old godson leaned over to me and whispered, “This is AWESOME!” I wish I could say that I felt the same way.
I loved the first two “Spy Kids” movies, which combined brilliantly imaginative visual effects, thrilling (but not too scary) action, silly fun, and a lot of heart. With this last in the series, writer-director-editor-producer-composer Robert Rodriguez is either so enthralled or so overwhelemed by the 3-D technology that he forsakes the essentials of plot and character. The movie is just non-stop loud, hurtling, special effects.
The story has something to do with a computer game called “Game Over” designed by an evil man called the Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone). Carmen Cortez (Alexa Vega) has become somehow lost in the game. If her brother Juni (Daryl Sabara) cannot shut down the game before it goes on the market, the game will enable the Toymaker to take over the world or bring about the end of the world, or something like that.
Most of the movie is just one long computer game, with one set of pixels fighting another. In the game, Juni meets up with beta testers and battles Demetra (Courtney Jines) in gladiator-style combat. He develops a crush in both senses of the word as he slams her avatar-robot around in between gazing longingly at the way that fetching lock of hair keeps falling in front of her determined but sparkling eyes.
The special effects may be in 3-D, but the story is flat, and there is very little of the quirky humor of the first two. We also miss the characters of the first two. Many of them appear only in brief cameos that are merely distracting. Stallone plays four parts, all of them badly.
Parents should know that there is constant action violence. A character explodes. As in the first movie, one of its strongest points is the portrayal of minority, disabled, and female characters.
Families who see this movie should talk about Juni’s grandfather, who wants people to look at him when he is in his wheelchair the same way they do when he can walk. They should also discuss what he says to the Toymaker about forgiveness. The Toymaker’s game has “the children’s attention” and wonders what they are learning. Who has your family’s children’s attention, and what are they learning? One interesting point that almost disappears in the noise is whether Juni is “the guy” a sort of chosen leader, like Neo in “The Matrix” or Luke in “Star Wars.” It is worth talking to kids about whether it matters to Juni, to the other kids in the game, or to the outcome if he is “the guy” or not. Families should also talk about the reality/perception/fantasy issues raised by the movie. Why is it important that the kids Juni meets in the game look so different when he meets them in real life?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Spy Kids and Spy Kids 2. They might also like to take a look at two other movies about going inside video games, Disney’s Tron and Super Mario Brothers. Both have outstanding special effects for their era, but, like this movie, have poor scripts.