The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
"Spy Kids" is giddy with the joy of its invention. It's an exuberant, colorful extravaganza, wall-to-wall with wildly original sets and visual gimmicks, and smart enough to escape the kids film category and play in the mainstream. You can imagine Robert Rodriguez, the writer and director, grinning as he dreamed this stuff up. And being amazed that his visual effects team could get it all on film so brilliantly.
The movie begins with Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino as Gregorio and Ingrid Cortez, spies who were once enemies but then fall in love and get married and have two great kids, Carmen (Alexa Vega) and Juni (Daryl Sabara). They retire from the spy business, but then an evil minion named Minion (Tony Shaloub) kidnaps the parents, and it's up to the spy kids to rescue them and save the world from the threat of robo-kids and Thumb Monsters.
Minion works for the diabolical Fegan Floop (Alan Cumming), whose job as a kiddie-show host masks his scheme to rule the world. His operation, based in a fantastical seaside castle, includes workers that are all thumbs, literally: thumbs for heads, arms and legs. Floop runs a cloning operation to turn out exact robotic copies of the children of powerful people. They look like the originals except for eyes with an eerie glow. Their problem: The brains aren't up to speed. Floop's answer: the Third Brain, which Gregorio Cortez secretly took along with him when he left the spy service.
This sounds, I know, like a plot for 8-year-olds, but Rodriguez charges at the material as if he wants to blow Indiana Jones out of the water, and the movie is just one outrageous invention after another. My feeling is that a "family movie" fails if it doesn't entertain the parents, since they're the ones who have to buy the tickets. "Spy Kids" is so endlessly imaginative, so high-spirited, so extravagant with its inspirations, so filled with witty dialogue, that the more you like movies, the more you may like this one.