Spy Kids 1 delivered on multiple competing genre fronts: a family-bonding adventure, a kiddie spy-action thriller, a light satire, and a digital editing/CGI showcase. Overall, a precarious, well-executed balancing act.
Spy Kids 2 immediately tips that balance almost entirely towards “digital editing/CGI showcase.” In fact, Spy Kids 2 was one of the first non-George Lucas movies to film entirely on digital video.
The opening half hour attempts to muscle in a story about competing spy families. Thematically, it represents a dark mirror to the original: There are risks to putting family above everything else to an extreme, including nepotism, corruption, and stubborn conservatism. (Or, in kiddie speak: “daddy said so, so it must be right.”)
Once the movie’s adventure proper kicks in, it shifts to a set piece delivery mechanism, barely connected to the themes of “family” or “espionage,” minus a few haphazard blips of dialogue.
The obvious inspiration of the action portions is Ray Harryhausen, as Spy Kids 2 offers a full menagerie of fantasy creatures engaged in battles with human characters. There are skeletons, giant hybrid beasts, etc, all rendered in CGI.
And therein lies the problem: 2002 CGI, even if it was bleeding edge, looks horrible 19 years later. (Harryhausen’s creations, meanwhile, still and will forever look amazing.) When the movie discards its emotional and narrative thread for a digital playground romp, there’s little fun in the movie now that we’ve all aged out of that playground — even if it’s a colorful, well-designed playground.
Steve Buscemi appears and is unsurprisingly excellent. He’s the movie’s obvious acting highlight, and not just because he’s Steve Buscemi (and gets to deliver the film’s iconic line). His quasi-villain character, Romero, links thematically to the quasi-villain character of Spy Kids 1: a reclusive creator who’s lost control of his art and isn’t sure if it’s improved or worsened the world.
It actually shapes the Spy Kids saga to be a weirdly reflective effort for Robert Rodriguez: not just a canvas to dork around with CGI and write silly kid banter, but a vessel of his insecurities and dreams as an artist.
Spy Kids 2 is a rickety old thrill ride, with half the cast checked out and the script half-baked. (Antonio Banderas seems like he can barely make it through takes.) But it’s bright and kinetic and there’s just enough going on under the surface to not totally toss it in the trash heap.
Not Very Good (3/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.