Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002)

Cynthia Fuchs

Juni and Carmen's perspective, part convincingly ingenuous and part movie-kid calculated, organizes the film's general view of things.

Spy Kids 2: the Island of Lost Dreams

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Daryl Sabara, Alexa Vega, Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Steve Buscemi, Mike Judge, Taylor Momsen, Ricardo Montalban, Holland Taylor, Emily Osment, Matthew O'Leary, Cheech Marin
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: Dimension Films
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 2002-08-09

Lucky Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara). Not only does he have amazing parents, international super-spies Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) and Ingrid (Carla Gugino); a totally fun gig as SK2, an operative for the newly formed SpyKIDS division of the OSS; and a fantastic little insecty-looking robot named R.A.L.P.H. He also has a decent older sister, Carmen (Alexa Vega), a.k.a. SK1. When you're 9 years old, this last is an especially big deal.

Juni and Carmen's adventures form the center of Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams. And their perspective, part convincingly ingenuous and part movie-kid calculated, organizes the film's general view of things: adults tend to err and children tend to save the world. This view is, of course, filtered through the irrepressible Rodriguez's fond memory and current understanding of kidness -- rollicking, enthusiastic, and not a little hyper. In this installment, it's also filtered through high definition video, as this most inventive of filmmakers continues to seek new means to conjure his art.

As in their first excursion, Juni and Carmen sort of stumble into a case, here involving a gizmo called a Transmooker: it shuts down anything that works by electricity, which is to say, just about everything the spies (adults and children) like to use, from their vehicles to their communicators to their extra-gadgety nano-technology watches that do everything but tell time (many of these come courtesy of Uncle Machete, played again by that utterly avuncular charmer, Danny Trejo). Also as in Spy Kids, Carmen and Juni get a little help from their properly proud and concerned folks, who are in turn helped by Ingrid's similarly supportive parents (Ricardo Montalban and Holland Taylor). In other words, "family" -- multi-ethnic, to boot -- is a prominent theme and value in this movie. No matter how independent and grown-up you want to be, it's good when someone has your back.

There are nominal differences from the first film here (and the third film is already in production). For one thing, following their grand success against Floop's (Alan Cummings) clone-kids, now the Cortez children have reputations to protect. At the film's start, they find themselves bested by their nearest rivals, the Gary and Gerti Giggles (Matthew O'Leary and Emily Osment, Haley Joel's little sister). All four are sent to rescue the U.S. President's daughter Alexandra (Taylor Momsen), stranded on a ride -- the "Juggler," a big mechanical clown that juggles pods of people -- at a theme park owned by the odious Dinky Winks (Bill Paxton). Juni saves the girl, but Gary retrieves the Transmooker, which turns out to be more important to the security guys than Alexandra.

This attitude -- so low on the "family values" scale -- is typical of the film's non-Cortez adults. As it happens, the new director of OSS, Donnagan (Mike Judge, of Beavis & Butt-head fame), is also Gary and Gerti's father. He's ambitious and caddish, and so, of course, he's named to the position when really, the new chief should be Gregorio (politics!). Being self-interested, Donnagan is inclined to blame Juni rather than Gary when the Transmooker is, inevitably, stolen by a crew of villainous magnet-heads: it's probably best not to explain what this means, exactly, but the concept and effect are a lot of fun.

Removed from service and embarrassed in front of pretty blond Alexandra (on whom he's developed a bit of a crush), Juni is despondent. Carmen comes to the rescue, hackng into the OSS computer system to reinstate him and get them assigned to a most prestigious mission. They figure, if they can retrieve the Transmooker, they can reclaim Juni's good name, and save the planet while they're at it. As before, they pilot a phenomenal undersea contraption (the Dragon Spy Ship) to a secret island.

There they befriend "mad" genetic scientist Romero (Steve Buscemi), very sweet but confused too, and quite afraid of his own creations, who are now, as he says, "run amok." These are different animals spliced together, like a spider monkey, catfish, horsefly, and something called a slizzard (part lizard, part snake). Romero is so skittish that he hides from Carmen and Juni, until she sets him straight: "We're kids, not monsters." And honestly, his creatures look less like state-of-the-art digital effects than like they've descended from some great Ray Harryhausen movie heaven. Juni befriends the spider-monkey by feeding it bits of his protein snacks, then rides it into battle against Gary, who's riding the slizzard. It's all very Clash of the Titans.

In fact, the more crucial tension in Spy Kids 2 has to do with hormones, i.e., kids growing up. Carmen has developed a crush of her own, on the dastardly (or misguided) Gary. Juni tenaciously, if not very effectively, tries to point out Gary's shortcomings to Carmen -- the kid is deceptive, smug, mean, etc. Generous-minded as well as smitten, she sticks up for Gary as long as she can. The dynamic between Carmen and Juni, the first film's most interesting aspect, is adjusted here, and paralleled in the relationship between Gary and the thoughtful, spunky Gerti, allowing for the kids' evolving interests. And this may be the aspect that keeps the franchise afloat, its close attention to the ways siblings interact.

More cute diversion than thrillsville outing, Spy Kids 2, like its predecessor, cuts frequently and a little tediously between the kids' exploits and their parents making their way to the island, breaking down momentum and hammering home that "family" theme (that said, Banderas is an endearing, self-goofing dad, obviously willing to pratfall in a most bighearted fashion). The closing credits sequence offers a glimpse of something else -- Vega singing and cavorting rather like Avril Lavigne-meets-Britney Spears, with Sabara on guitar -- but for the most part, the film follows formula.

This is not necessarily a terrible thing. The formula was a huge triumph once. Still, the spy kids -- as characters and ideas -- are so refreshing, all this plot busyness is only distracting from the series' most profound strength and charm, which is, precisely, the kids.






Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.


Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.


Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.


'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.


Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".


12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.


Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.


Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.


Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".


Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.


The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.


Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.


Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.


Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.


The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.


Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.


Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.


Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.