Spy Kids 2 (August 7/02)
Spy Kids 2 is the sort of sequel that is almost guaranteed to please fans of the original. Unlike movies like Toy Story 2 or the second Godfather, both which improved upon their predecessors, Spy Kids 2 feels like a natural extension of the first one. It's essentially on the same level as the original, and continues the story that's already been established.
As the film begins, we learn that the adventures of Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen (Alexa Vega) from the first film were so successful that a new branch devoted entirely to recruiting and training child spies has been opened. This brings with it fresh competition, in the form of bratty siblings (Matt O'Leary and Emily Osment) who are determined to become top spies. Juni and Carmen have the edge, though, with a high-profile assignment: Recover a stolen device that has the capability to shut down all the power sources in the world. Their mission takes them to a mysterious island, populated by odd creatures and inhabited by a shy and reclusive scientist (Steve Buscemi). Meanwhile, Juni and Carmen's parents (Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino) learn of their disappearance, so they head for the same island.
The film opens with an enjoyably over-the-top sequence set at an amusement park run by an enthusiastic Texan (hilariously played by Bill Paxton). Indeed, that opening fifteen minutes or so is so effective, the film never quite manages to top it. Still, like the first film, Spy Kids 2 is packed with all sorts of crazy gadgets and bizarre looking sets. The goons who steal the precious device, for example, are outfitted with magnetic hats which allow them to be picked up from the ground by air (with the use of a ship that's essentially a huge magnet). It's stuff like that that makes the movie so enjoyable, but quieter moments are equally effective. There's a long stretch in which Juni and Carmen are stuck on the island unable to use their gadgets (a stretch that's maybe a little too long), and it's here that director Robert Rodriguez gets to prove that this movie isn't all about visceral excitement.
And like the original, Spy Kids 2 is just as enjoyable for adults as it is for kids, mostly due to the various references and sly jokes that will no doubt sail over most children's heads. But, like the first film, the pacing here isn't quite as tight as it could be (or should be). While the beginning and ending are packed with special effects and other eye candy, there's an unnecessarily long period of inactivity once the kids arrive on the island. But that's a minor complaint for an otherwise ideal summer movie.