" Gentlemen, the boy who saw a woman’s breast has left the planet "
The American Astronaut

MRQE Top Critic

Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace

Does the original trilogy justice in terms of heart, action, and fun —Marty Mapes (review...)

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I went to see this kidfest with two young PlayStation addicts. With our tickets we each received a pair of blue- and red- lensed 3-D viewing glasses. While the boys were impressed with the video game theme of Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, I was less than dazzled.

Here are some of their comments:

Marty (age 8): It was exciting because of the monsters. It seemed like you were controlling the characters in the movie, kind of.

Paul (age 11): I would give it 3-1/2 stars. I liked the different levels [of the game]. I liked it that you didn’t know what was going to happen until you were in each level.

The boys cranked their thumbs sideways to indicate their ambivalence about the 3-D glasses. “I didn’t wear mine very much,” Marty said. “They hurt my eyes.”

The Family Who Plays Together Stays Together

Kid-recommended SK3 breaks even with adults
Kid-recommended SK3 breaks even with adults

In his third Spy Kids movie, director and writer Robert Rodriguez brings us a handful of good gadgets (like sticks with extra electronic hands on the ends and of course the rocket-boots) and a couple of amusing jokes. But it is less enjoyable than others for its muddy, gray pre-Pixar textures. The digital sets make it too obvious that the actors are doing most of their stunts on wires, instead of in the coolest treehouse ever or a rock precipice.

In SK3 Juni Cortez (Daryl Sabara) is a disaffected former government secret agent who has decided to go into business for himself as a private investigator (a real gumshoe, he says, a puddle of gum between his shoe and the pavement). He’s solving mysteries, but they’re all small potatoes.

The OSS keeps trying to get Juni signed up with the agency again, but he’s got a chip on his shoulder after being “burned” in his last adventure. When he learns that his sister, Carmen, who still works as a secret agent, is stuck inside one of the levels of the biggest video game ever, about to be released to the public, playing the game to rescue his sister is a call he can’t refuse.

The Nefarious Brainsucker

The video game, of course, is a trap designed to ensnare children’s minds, created by the nefarious Toymaker (Sylvester Stallone). Up to Level 4, when kids play, their parents can’t ever get their attention (“What’s new about that?” asks Juni). Reaching Level 5 is said to reward the player with “untold riches.” But the game is programmed to trap kids who reach Level 5 forever.

When it’s time for Juni to embark into the world of the game, bold screen titles advise, “GLASSES ON.” As we watch Juni and his co-gamers, with a little help from his Grandpa (Ricardo Montalban) attempt to save the world’s children from evil, we experience pogo toads, robot battles, evil Tinkertoys, and surfing in canyons of molten lava in all their 3-D glory.

Where’s The Girl Power?

Daryl Sabara as Juni shoulders his lead role with aplomb. He has just the right balance of early-adolescent swagger and countering awkwardness to carry off this role. I missed his big sister, Carmen (Alexa Vega), though, who remains trapped out of sight in Level 4 limbo for most of the film. She’s a game and competent big sister to Juni’s clumsy hero.

Many of the other characters that enlivened the first two movies are back for the third, but with only bit parts. Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino reprise their roles as Dad and Mom. Alan Cumming and Tony Shalhoub chime in as Floop and Minion. New to the franchise is Salma Hayek as the wife of Donnagon Giggles (Mike Judge), and Sylvester Stallone as the Toymaker and the three warring sides of his conscience, a little Greek chorus that quibbles about the right thing to do. Notable among the newcomers is the girl who plays Demetra, the tough-but-tender Courtney Jines, who fills some of the girl-power gap from Carmen’s absence from the story.

Kid-Tested, Kid-Approved

When all monsters and robots were vanquished for good, after we had seen the very last of the extras at the end of the credits, my kid friends were satisfied. They appreciated the video game motif and the kids’ wicked stunts. The 3-D ambiance didn’t bowl any of us over, although some of the 3-D monsters and flying objects threatened to.

SK3 delivered just the right amount of heartfelt morals to make me feel good about seeing it with the kids. Its reliance on the contrived digital texture left me cold, but may engage you if you love your Nintendo. You can send the kids off to see this one if they insist, but you’d have more fun renting the first Spy Kids movie and watching it together.