Film

Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003)

Jesse Hassenger

Fun as it is, demonstrates a little end-of-series fatigue.


Spy Kids 3-d: Game Over

Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Daryl Sabara, Alexa Vega, Ricardo Montalban, Sylvester Stallone
MPAA rating: PG
Studio: Miramax
First date: 2003
US Release Date: 2003-07-25

In Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, the third Spy Kids film in as many years, Robert Rodriguez continues to synthesize his influences with a sort of mad genius. The previous chapters incorporated elements of James Bond, Mission: Impossible, The Wizard of Oz, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Ray Harryhausen, Sesame Street, Willy Wonka, domestic sitcoms and Mr. Wizard in a pastiche both familiar and weirdly original. Spy Kids 3-D adds to this mix generous helpings of Tron, The Matrix, and film noir.

It's an effective, affectionate strategy. Much of this will be new to younger audience members, while teasing parents (or even older children) with subtle reminders of their childhood pleasures. It's even, as the title enthusiastically reminds us, in its bygone 3-D matinee format, another one of Rodriguez's tips of the hat to B-movies of yore.

Indeed, he has many hats to choose from. Rodriguez not only directed SK3-D, but served as writer, producer, editor, and photographer. He also composed the score. Essentially, he did everything but personally sire the child actors. His multiple duties have allowed the films to be produced quickly and cheaply but have also given him room to freely indulge his imagination.

Of course, a speedy production is necessary here for other reasons. Despite the relatively short time between sequels, stars Daryl Sabara (younger brother Juni) and Alexa Vega (older sister Carmen) are growing up quickly; you get the impression SK3-D was completed just in the nick of time, before full-blown adolescence could rear its cynical head.

Even so, Carmen is still largely absent from this adventure, waiting to be rescued by Juni, who retired from spying at the end of the second film. Juni is called out of retirement to save Carmen, who is trapped in a virtual reality video game named "Game Over." Juni and his grandfather (Ricardo Montalban!) must venture into this 3-D universe, which is presided over by the mysterious Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone). According to the Toymaker's plans, the game will enslave the world's children; when players get caught up in playing, they are forever lost in the videogame (the knowing laughs from parents in the audience at this plot point are almost more amusing than the joke itself).

If my excitement about Montalban and Stallone seems misplaced, you need only to witness SK3-D, which magically allows two ex-icons to have cool adventures again. Stallone gets to ham it up, conversing with the Toymaker's multiple personalities (all played, broadly, by Stallone), which aren't quite explained by the hurried story. It's not even that Stallone's villainous turn is particularly skillful so much as he actually looks like he's having a good time for the first time in a few decades.

Montalban, audibly savoring his goofy dialogue, is even better, playing the physically disabled grandfather (able to walk again within the videogame, natch) with equal parts dignity and panache. A late scene in which he expresses his hope that Juni will continue to look at him with admiration in the real world is genuinely touching, while (gasp!) imparting a lesson to its young audience about tolerance and physical differences.

Apart from Grandfather, whose appearances are sporadic, Juni is the only returning character with a lot of screentime, and so Daryl Sabara must carry a lot of the movie himself. Luckily, he does this well. Juni has become the heart of the series, the center of its on going growing-up metaphor. In the first film, the children are introduced to spying through their parents; in the second, they have their own adventure, with the parents in supporting roles; and in SK3-D, Juni is on his own, interacting mostly with other kids. Given the solo nature of Juni's adventure, his reunion with loved ones at film's end is entirely charming. The many characters sweetly reiterate the films' original mission statement: family, in all its forms, is most important. It's to Rodriguez's credit that this statement is made while the clan is fighting giant robots.

Still, despite its family politics, I found myself missing the easy sibling chemistry between Carmen and Juni that drove the first two films. Furthermore, while former supporting players Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Steve Buscemi, Alan Cumming, Bill Paxton, Tony Shaloub and Mike Judge all have fun cameos, none of the new characters (primarily a trio of young players trapped in the game) are as memorable as Buscemi's mad scientist or Cumming's TV star. Perpetual Rodriguez muse Salma Hayek is also on hand but doesn't have much to do.

It's not as if Rodriguez needs a gaggle of adult celebrities to entertain, but the movie as a whole is spread a little thin. Spy Kids 2 was joyously overstuffed; SK3-D, fun as it is (and this adult found it a lot more fun than recent sequels like Bad Boys II and Terminator 3), demonstrates a little end-of-series fatigue.

Filling the gaps in character and story are the 3-D effects. Despite some nominal advances in the technology, the 3-D stuff offers more retro charm than big wows. Still, you get the feeling Rodriguez used the rickety 3-D format more out of love than to cash in on a "new" gimmick. It's a shame that the movie is a little rickety, too. Even so, an imperfect Spy Kids film is much better than most of this summer's fare.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image