Nathan Rabin’s legendary My Year of Flops feature on AV Club groups bad movies into three categories: Failure (“the absence of success”; run-of-the-mill bad), Fiasco (“failure of mythic proportions”; bad in a riveting way), and Secret Success (movie that seems bad, but is actually good).
Spy Kids 3 is, to me, a textbook example of “Fiasco.” It is certainly a very bad movie, broken in nearly every way. But its relentless pursuit of its vision and adherence to its own series’ themes and lore make it the kind of catastrophe you can’t help but salute even as it crashes to earth and kills all your loved ones.
Due presumably to some combination of budgetary and scheduling issues, Spy Kids 3 focuses almost entirely on Juni for at least 2/3 of its runtime. First, he’s a lone wolf hardboiled gumshoe, an idea the movie lingers on for half a scene. Then, Juni enters a virtual game world (a la VR “metaverse”) for the rest of the movie’s 84 minutes, accompanying some new friends.
Where Spy Kids 2 filled its tropical sets with CGI creatures, Spy Kids 3 is CGI from the ground up, with one half-assed Tron-esque set piece after another. The virtual world has no unifying theme or sense of place. The game’s rules are gibberish. The omnipresent CGI has aged like milk, made only worse by the nonstop 3D pop-out gimmicks, which look even stupider in 2D (how I watched). It’s the dull kind of ugly.
Honestly, why even make this a “Spy Kids” movie if there’s no espionage and almost no family? Just Juni’s VR misadventures?
Well, there’s actually a pretty good answer, and it comes down to the movie’s villain: The Toymaker (horribly miscast as Sylvester Stallone; Jeff Goldblum would have been perfect). He’s the third Spy Kids antagonist who is a reclusive creator, each more tortured than the last. Here, the villain is so wracked with guilt of the inadequacy and danger of his art that he’s literally trapped in it, having conversations with himself. He turns his art against the world as a defense mechanism.
There’s a nifty but pointless little showdown where a bunch of characters from throughout the Spy Kids trilogy are reunited. It suggests that Rodriguez cared more about this movie and its narrative role than literally any component of it suggests.
But the truth is, this might be the boldest Spy Kids movie, a proper capper: It’s a series increasingly detached from reality, immersed in fantasies, torn asunder by tortured artists who don’t know when to stop.
If only it was any good.