'Spy Kids: Armageddon' OUT on OTT: Revives nostalgia with wacky spy adventures for a new generation
Spy Kids: Armageddon, a Netflix reboot taps into millennial nostalgia while aiming to entertain kids with wacky spy adventures and video game fun, though it loses some magic to CGI and digital production
For many late millennials, the Spy Kids franchise holds a special place in their childhood memories. I was seven years old when the first film hit theaters, and it was a cultural phenomenon - Happy Meal toys, TV ads, and classmates showing off spy "gear." The movies, especially the original in 2001, offered wacky and grand adventures with cartoonish stakes. For kids, Spy Kids was the ultimate fantasy, featuring cool parents (international super spies played by Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) and incredible gadgets.
Netflix's reboot of the Spy Kids franchise, called "Spy Kids: Armageddon," directed by the original creator Robert Rodriguez, clearly recognizes the nostalgia it taps into. However, it primarily aims to entertain children, just like the original. In this 94-minute film, the responsibility for saving the world falls on Tony and Patty Tango-Torrez, played by Connor Esterson and Everly Carganilla, as it did for Carmen and Juni Cortez in the original films. The adult characters, especially the bumbling members of the spy group OSS, take a backseat.
Similar to the original, the reboot is set in Austin, Texas, where the Tango-Torrez family lives seemingly ordinary lives in a tech-filled home. Unbeknownst to their kids, Terrence (played by Zachary Levi) and Nora (played by Gina Rodriguez) are active super-spies with access to the Armageddon code, which can hack into any device in the world. Tony and Patty just want to play video games and clash with their dad's strict tech rules, considering their gaming as training.
One amusing nod to adults is the character of The King, a power-hungry tech mogul (played by Billy Magnussen), who seems like a parody of Elon Musk. The King wants the Armageddon code to force all devices to play video games, and Tony and Patty are perfectly positioned to unlock secret codes and battle the robot video game villains he sends into their home.
The film unfolds as a cheerful battle for world domination, featuring fantastical gadgets and taking place mainly in The King's retro video game castle, complete with chunky polygons and gaming references. Director Robert Rodriguez maintains his ability to capture a child's sense of adventure and absurdity, preserving the fantasy of being a character in a video game and embodying the hero.
Ironically, despite the franchise's futuristic themes, some of the magic is lost due to the transition to Netflix and the heavy use of CGI. While The King's castle offers video game thrills with disappearing blocks and wobbly platforms over lava rivers, it lacks the visual depth and silliness of the older films. There's a sense that the film's playfulness is somewhat constrained by the limitations of digital production, especially in the final video game showdown.
This is a common trade-off when revisiting nostalgic franchises; while it may capture attention, some of the original charm and creativity can't be fully recaptured. However, the new generation to whom this film is explicitly targeted may not notice these differences. "Spy Kids: Armageddon" may not live up to the past, but it does serve as a reminder of the simple joys of childhood, and it's likely that today's kids will enjoy it.
"Spy Kids: Armageddon" is now available on Netflix, offering a new adventure for a new generation while nodding to the nostalgia of late millennials.