This review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the film being covered here wouldn’t exist.Over two decades ago, Robert Rodriguez introduced millennials to spycraft and Thumb Thumbs with his upbeat quartet of Spy Kids films, which embraced familial bonds and the potential children have to save the day through the optimism that only they possess. These hopepunk themes have carried over into Rodriguez’s other kid-friendly action comedies, like The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl and its subsequent star-studded Netflix sequel We Can Be Heroes, and permeate through the delightfully schmaltzy Spy Kids reboot Spy Kids: Armageddon.
Beyond the OSS (Organization of Super Spies), Spy Kids: Armageddon seems largely disconnected from the previous Spy Kids franchise, paving the way for Netflix to explore the story further with a new cast of characters and entirely different stakes. In addition to rebooting the series, Rodriguez has re-teamed with his son, Racer Rodriguez, who notably crafted the story for Sharkboy and Lavagirl at the tender age of seven. While the younger Rodriguez has long since aged out of the film’s target audience, he and his father still seem perfectly capable of crafting heartfelt family fun.
Armageddon’s parental units lack the scorching-hot chemistry that Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino brought to the original trilogy, but Zachary Levi and Gina Rodriguez do make a very sweet couple as Terrence and Nora Tango-Torrez. They smooch and swoon and operate as a rock-solid spy couple made even better by their precocious children Patty (Everly Carganilla) and Tony (Connor Esterson) who are the very best of them. Levi and Rodriguez are quite charming, though they are merely secondary characters to the young leads.
Rodriguez doesn’t spend a lot of time building up their family dynamic, opting instead to throw the audience head-first into the thick of things, and it works in its favor. Especially with the subtle hints and clues about the family, which are paid off in the final act in very fun ways. With the children front-and-center, the script lets Patty and Tony take the lead, fleshing out how the family operates through their snark, sibling drama, and feelings towards their parents. Rodriguez has always placed his faith in the children he casts in his films and hasn’t been led astray yet. He keeps finding talented pint-sized actors who outshine and outfox their adult counterparts.
The cast of good guys is rounded out by D.J. Cotrona, who previously starred in Rodriguez’s short-lived From Dusk Till Dawn reboot series and opposite Levi in the Shazam! films, who appears as OSS leader Devlin. There isn’t much to his character, by design, but Cotrona has fantastic comedic timing, especially when he’s being one-upped by Patty and Tony.
‘Armageddon’ Has Plenty of Kid-Friendly Action—With a Twist
There are two key pieces of technology at the heart of Spy Kids: Armageddon’s plot—the Armageddon Code, which the Tango-Torrez family has possession of, and TK, the hot new video game taking over the world. Literally. A powerful game developer named Rey “The King” Kingston (Billy Magnussen) has noble intentions, but they’re totally obscured by his desperation to prove that his game can save the world if only everyone would play it. It’s a very hokey and ill-contrived powerplay, but it’s perfectly on brand with the sort of supervillains Rodriguez has crafted in his previous Spy Kids and Sharkboy and Lavagirl films.
Spy Kids: Armageddon might be action-packed, but there’s nothing inherently violent about the battles that Patty and Tony get involved with. Sure, there are swords, shields, and axe-wielding skeletons, but they’re hardly real threats to the children, and those lowered stakes won’t detract from the thrills aimed at the younger demographic watching. Parents might find themselves rolling their eyes at how easily the villains are undone—especially when their undoing is quite literally kindness, but that’s what has always made Rodriguez’s films so compelling for their target audience. Rather than pushing the visuals of ultra-violent fights, like the video games that inspired Armageddon’s big-bad, the film opts to encourage children to be good, be true, and seek out restorative justice for their enemies.
While nothing will ever compare to the hilarious fear that Thumb Thumbs instilled in an entire generation, there’s something uniquely perfect about Rodriguez’s chosen villain in Armageddon—a tech boy gamer with daddy issues who thinks he can save the world with his video game systems. With a new tech-fueled generation to cater to, Rodriguez is smart to create a villainous scenario that is more nebulous than past Spy Kids foes. It speaks to the target demographic, who are naturally gifted with video games, unlike their adult counterparts, even if they also played video games, once upon a time.
The World Needs More Hopepunk Stories like ‘Spy Kids: Armageddon’
Spy Kids: Armageddon may never be the generation-defining cult classic that its predecessors were, but it is still a long-overdue return to an unparalleled universe. In Rodriguez’s world, hopepunk rules, and very few storytellers feel compelled to tell stories where there’s unwavering optimism and hope for the future. The children in his world might inherit cool talents from their parents and be given unbelievable tech, but they always manage to save the day through their own innate abilities and the wisdom that comes with viewing the world through the eyes of a child. It’s a rare and beautiful thing amidst a cinematic landscape filled with nihilism, superheroes, and a need to be connected to powerful names.
So long as you aren’t expecting a masterpiece, Spy Kids: Armageddon proves itself as a fun, spy romp, where kids are king and parents are simply along for the ride. It’s childhood wish-fulfillment to the extreme, straight down to getting to live out video game fantasies and one-hit wonders. It achieves exactly what it sets out to be, even if the road to that success is lined with goofy, cartoonish villains, easy wins, and too-smart children saving the day.
The Big Picture
- Spy Kids: Armageddon is a nostalgic return to the Spy Kids universe, with hopepunk themes and a focus on familial bonds and the power of children.
- The film features a new cast of characters and a new storyline, disconnected from the previous Spy Kids franchise.
- The action-packed film has lowered stakes for the young protagonists, encouraging kindness and restorative justice instead of violent fights, appealing to its younger demographic.
Spy Kids: Armageddon is now streaming on Netflix.