What I Was Expecting / What I Knew Going In
I assume this is a franchise whose title says it all. Spies who are also kids. Kids who are also spies. It writes itself, I would think.
Such a premise lends itself to independent sequels that don't really need any back story, so I'm assuming I'll catch up pretty easily.
The Plot Summary
Carmen and Juni are spy kids. They work for an organization called the "OSS," which is never spelled out that I remember, so I'll guess it means "Organization of Secret Spies." They are called into action at a theme park where the President's daughter is trapped on a ride, and as they set about rescuing her, they are suddenly out-done by rival spy kids Gary and Gerti.
Gary and Gerti are a couple of blonde dickheads with cool gadgets - cooler gadgets than Carmen and Juni can afford, apparently. (I'm not sure how this works and the movie never explains it, but apparently some agents have to pay for their own stuff? Why? Wouldn't you want all of your spies to have the right tools to do the job?) This discrepancy, along with Gary's overall dickishness, sets Juni at odds with them immediately.
Juni rescues the President's daughter while Gary recovers a... thing from her. The movie has some zany name for it like "moog-floogler" or something, but I'm just going to call it an EMP Gun, because that's ultimately what it is. Anyway, because Gary recovered the device, the OSS flips its shit and promotes him. He and Gerti - who didn't even do anything, but gets promoted anyway - become the first ever spy kids to reach the illustrious Rank 1.
All of the OSS and the President go to a ceremony to celebrate the promotion. But after a toast, a bunch of magnetized villains drug all the adults and sneak into the ceremony hall to steal the EMP Gun. There's some fighting between them and the spy kids, and when the adults wake up again, Gary pins the blame for the incident entirely on Juni.
(This calls into question the competency of the OSS. They're all drugged because they all drink champagne at the same time, but why would your entire staff be drinking at once? That's just bad planning, guys. Some of you have to stay on the clock. Also, why is one random kid getting blamed for your shitty security? It's not his fault you didn't screen your wait staff properly.)
Juni's OSS status is revoked and Gary and Gerti are sent out on the "Yukata Mission," whatever the hell that is. Then Carmen has a brainstorm: they should try to do the Yukata Mission before Gary and Gerti have a chance, so that way they can clear Juni's name. She hacks into the OSS computers and reinstates Juni's status, and then they're off and running.
There's some mishap and incident, but eventually the spy kids all wind up on a mysterious island inhabited by robots and giant monsters where a second, much larger EMP Gun is located. Their mission doesn't seem to be explicitly stated, but soon it becomes clear that Gary and Gerti's father, another OSS spy, is a double agent who wants to steal the Large EMP Gun and use it to take over the world. Gary and Gerti were sent to claim it for him, and now Juni and Carmen have to stop them.
Along the way there's even more mishap and incident involving the monsters, some skeletons, some flying pigs, and a bunch of other nonsense. Also magnets. It's all very silly and spastic and sometimes charming.
Eventually Juni and Carmen reclaim the Large EMP Gun, clear Juni's name, and reveal Gary and Gerti's father's plot to the President. Gary is disavowed and Juni is offered Rank 1, but he declines because he's tired of being a Spy Kid.
What I Liked
I'll give the movie this: it's fun to look at. That's no surprise - Robert Rodriguez is an amazing director who fills all of his movies with so much flair and pizazz that you'll be glued to the screen from start to finish. Even when it turns into a bunch of CGI nonsense, the blocking and action are crisp, easy to follow, and interesting.
And although I can't say the energy won me over, I like that the entire cast committed to it. (Most of them, anyway. See below.) They throw themselves fully into their roles with all the enthusiasm and aplomb befitting kids who get to screw around with spy equipment.
What I Didn't Like
About that energy....
It's a funny thing when a movie or a situation demands enthusiasm and you see how different people react. Guys like me, we're terrible to invite to that party. We'll be sitting in the corner quaffing scotch and sneering while you and your friends fail to convince us that it's still fun to do the Macarena. You don't want me in your Spy Kids movie.
The range in the kids is pretty funny, too. I'm sure all of them were pretty psyched to be in a movie, but some of them - mainly Alexa Vega - are good actors who convey the appropriate level of energy while still being believable. Others - like Emily Osment - are just... well, I hate to use the word "appalling" when describing a ten year-old girl, but since she's now in her twenties, I think it's okay.
(No offense, Emily. I've seen you in more recent stuff - looks like you got the practice you needed.)
This is a classic case of precociousness gone wrong. It's an element that's hard to work into your movie without immediately making it obnoxious. If you've got a good kid actor, then they can act like an adult or put on some sense of stature and they come across as really cute. That's what you always want. But when you've got a bad kid actor doing the same thing, you just want to slap 'em and tell them to go back to their crayons. I'm saying this as an uncle and a parent, mind you.
Take the kid who plays the President's daughter. When she's just being calm and acting like a kid, she's fine, but when she turns into "The Boss" at the end and wears a pantsuit, I just could not stop grumbling. Or look at Daryl Sabara's performance as Juni - he's not a terrific actor, but he's not terrible. It's just that he's so much better at playing a clumsy goofball than he is at anything else, so I can't stand him in the few scenes where he's supposed to have some sense of gravitas - like when he quits the OSS.
In a different movie, the constant bombardment of colors and shapes might eventually win me over, but I don't think Spy Kids 2 is terribly concerned about whether a thirty-something crank gives a shit. Sometimes, kids' movies are just meant for kids.
Would I Recommend It?
Definitely not if you're watching it by yourself. Even as a guy who does this somewhat for a purpose (granted, a stupid blog that nobody reads isn't really much of a defense, but it's still an excuse), watching this alone as an adult feels like going to a playground when you don't have any kids. You just shouldn't do it.
The fact that it's live action makes it feel so much creepier than when I watch some dumb animated movie. I need a shower.
But assuming you are watching it with kids (hopefully yours, or at least your brother's or sister's), it depends on how old they are. This is a 10 or younger movie. The visuals are fun and there's enough gleeful anarchy to keep it from being a total drag, but the movie knows its audience and doesn't want to pander up to the squares.
What Do I Think the Prequel Was About
Juni and Carmen are ordinary kids with ordinary lives who go to ordinary school and have ordinary frustrations. (Well, maybe they're rich and go to a private school and have tutors who teach them all kinds of groovy stuff, but other than all that, they're ordinary.) Then one day, their parents, who have been Mega Spies with the OSS for years, get kidnapped by an evil genius, and Juni and Carmen have to use miscellaneous gadgets to rescue them.
At the end of the movie, they become the first ever Spy Kids in the OSS, and that's why Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino are so pissed off that their kids didn't get to Rank 1 first in the beginning of Spy Kids 2. Figures that a couple of white assholes would get it even though they got to the party late.
My Pitch For Another One
Nobody really needs a pitch, do they? Haven't they already made like seven of these things?
Well, just in case, let's think about in terms of other spy movies. This one invoked the "disavowed agent" trope that you find in the Bourne movies and roughly half of all the James Bond films, and it also played with the "malfunctioning / useless gadgets" theme of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. So, if they haven't done it already, I say they do a Spy Kids that plays off of Skyfall.
In other words, Juni and Carmen have to save their parents from a disfigured Javier Bardem, who blames Antonio Banderas for his personal tragedies, as he wreaks destruction on the OSS. They'll grow up from Spy Kids to Spy Adults in no time.