Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over (2003)


"Family is important, Juni," Gertie Giggles agrees. "Just remember… everyone is family."

2003, Dimension. Directed by Robert Rodriguez. Daryl Sabara, Alexa Vega, Ricardo Montalban, Sylvester Stallone, George Clooney, Bobby Edner, Salma Hayek, Alan Cumming, Mike Judge, Steve Buscemi, Emily Osment, Matthew O’Leary, Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino.

Artistic/Entertainment Value

Moral/Spiritual Value


Age Appropriateness

Kids & Up*

MPAA Rating


Caveat Spectator

Stylized action violence and mild menace.

Juni’s forehead wrinkles. "That doesn’t make any sense," he protests doubtfully.

If Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over were consistent, that protest would become Juni’s mantra, repeated every thirty seconds or so from that point on until the end of the film. Then again, if Spy Kids 3-D were consistent — about anything at all — it might actually start making some kind of sense.

Not that real-world logic necessarily applies in a Spy Kids movie, especially one that takes place mostly inside a video game. But doesn’t even a video game have to have some kind of logic, some kind of rules? Without them, doesn’t it become arbitrary and pointless?

Give Spy Kids 3-D credit for three things. One, it’s cheerful, energetic, inoffensive, visually stimulating, and even sort of colorful, within the limits of the yellow-purple spectrum dictated by the red-and-blue 3-D glasses. Two, Sylvester Stallone is finally funny, giving the comic performance (s) of his career in quadruple roles as a mad scientist and his three holographic alter egos. And three, while I was often nonplused watching it, at least I was never bored.

The movie’s 3-D video-game world is full of things like giant robots and sci-fi racing vehicles, but has nothing to match the imaginative whimsy of the first movie’s Thumb-Thumbs or Fooglies, or even the sequel’s semi-mythological hybrid beasts.

The affectionate family spirit of the original has been reduced to a slogan ("To family"). With spy parents Gregorio and Ingrid (Antonio Banderas and Carla Guigino) relegated to walk-ons and even Carmen (Alexa Vega) in a supporting role, Spy Kids 3-D is really just The Juni Show, starring Daryl Sabara and co-starring Ricardo Montalban as Grandpa Cortez.

Spy Kids creator Robert Rodriguez squeezes in cameos for every actor from the previous two movies — Alan Cumming, Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi, Mike Judge, George Clooney, Emily Osment — while also finding spots for a host of newcomers, including Salma Hayek (Dogma) and Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings). Everyone is present and accounted for — and no one matters a whit.

There’s no humanity left, no recognizable human interactions, relationships, or emotions, apart from a few fleetingly poignant moments involving Montalban’s wheelchair-bound status. In a better movie, these moments would have had real resonance; here, they simply emphasize the hollowness of the rest of the film.

From the opening scene, in which Juni appears mouthing hardboiled film noir voiceover narration, we realize that the recognizable children of the first movie are gone, and Juni is now officially a kid-adult. (This process actually began in the second film, with Juni’s talk of "looking forward to retirement" and "getting back to the dreams and projects I left behind," but now the transition is complete.)

Once inside the game, Juni’s actions become as arbitrary and inexplicable as the rules of the game itself. Try to follow this: For Juni, the game is actually a matter of life or death. An eagerly anticipated virtual-reality phenomenon called "Game Over," the game is actually an insidious trap designed to give its evil-genius maker (Stallone) control over the minds of a whole generation of gamers.

Though not yet available to the public, "Game Over" has already captured Juni’s sister Carmen, who had been trying to shut it down. Juni’s mission, therefore, is to rescue his sister and shut down the game before it goes public.

Inside the game, Juni encounters several children who call themselves beta testers, and believe that they are competing for a prize that Juni knows is nonexistent. For them, presumably, elimination means only expulsion from the game (really liberation from the Toymaker’s trap); for Juni, elimination would mean failing his mission and losing his sister.

So get this: When Juni runs across a windfall of bonus points, i.e., gameplaying longevity, what does he do with them? Gives them away to a fellow player — a supposedly sweet gesture that in fact simultaneously jeopardizes both his sister and his mission while also prolonging the other player’s unknowing captivity.

Then, when a player is eliminated, Juni drops to his knees in horror and dismay, as if someone had died — when in fact he should have been happy to see the person presumably liberated from the Toymaker’s trap. I can understand the idea of getting caught up in a game and caring about the fate of a fellow player, but not when you know what’s really at stake.

Still later, there’s an even more jaw-dropping moment which Juni speaks of "my girlfr…" — and trust me, the moment is not remotely earned. This lack of emotional logic make it impossible to accept the movie’s goofy premise even on its own terms.

Will kids really care about the lack of rhyme and reason? Won’t they just enjoy the colorful action and cool 3-D imagery? Some will, perhaps. I did myself, as far as that goes. But I think many kids want a game, even a game in a movie or TV show, to have clear rules. Look at the popularity of the Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! franchises.

With Spy Kids 3-D, kids looking to make sense of the game will be left scratching their heads in bewilderment. First they are told that Carmen had requested Juni as backup for the game mission, but Juni was unavailable because he wouldn’t return the OSS’s calls. In order to follow his sister into the game, Juni must go to OSS headquarters and jack in from there. But then, when Juni himself requests Grandpa Cortez as his own backup, Grandpa simply appears instantaneously, not even knowing how he got there. If the OSS can do that, why couldn’t they just zap Juni into the game when Carmen requested him?

Then there’s a key bit of "Game Over" lore regarding "The Guy" — a figure of Keanu-like messianic significance who, according to the beta testers, can lead other players to victory. Juni protests that he’s not "The Guy," but plays along anyway to gain the others’ help. Later, another figure briefly appears, claiming to be the true Guy. In the end, we learn… nothing. The movie never establishes who the Guy really is, or even whether there really is any Guy. The whole question seems not to matter to Rodriguez; I suspect it will to many young viewers.

The beta testers also warn that attempts to cheat will be met with expulsion from the game by ominous Agent-like figures called the Programmers, who are far more powerful than gamers; but then we discover that Grandpa Cortez, who should be as much subject to the rules of the game as Juni, is somehow more powerful than the Programmers. Once again, there’s no explanation. Even when the film throws in a bit of telepathy between Juni and Carmen — apparently a lasting legacy from the previous film’s unexplained silence/telepathy zone — there’s not a word of explanation.

My fondness for the original Spy Kids remains undiminished. Its playful depiction of marriage as a romantic adventure, of parents as cooler than their kids suspect, and of familial unity as a heroic mission were an imaginative salute to family life, and its whimsical, constantly inventive set and character design set it head and shoulders above the mass of family films.

The sequel already relegated the parents to ineffectual, irrelevant supporting roles and focused on office politics and competition rather than family unity, while the story included whole subplots that had no explanation or plot relevance. With Spy Kids 3-D, the descent into incoherence and eclipsing of characters and relationships is complete.

As sheer dumb spectacle, Spy Kids 3-D isn’t wholly without merit. Too bad Rodriguez can no longer be bothered to offer family audiences more than that.

Action, Adventure, Comedy, Debilitating Sequelitis, Family, Spy Kids Stuff, Spy vs. Spy, Video Gamey