The “Spy Kids” are back, and director Robert Rodriguez is once again spearheading the franchise through a soft reboot — this time for Netflix.
The clever, kids-have-to-be-spys-after-their-spy-parents-are-captured conceit returns in “Spy Kids: Armageddon” (now streaming), the fifth film in the franchise and one yet again written and directed by series creator Rodriguez. This time it’s a new family, led by Gina Rodriguez and Zachary Levi, who are battling an evil game designer (Billy Magnussen). Thankfully, their kids (Connor Esterson and Everly Carganilla) spring into action. It’s got a ton of humor, a ton of heart, some classically “Spy Kids”-y action and some brand-new gadgets. What more could you want?
TheWrap spoke to Rodriguez, whose first “Spy Kids” movie premiered in 2001, about returning to the franchise, what other of his movies he would want to revisit and whether there’ll be another “Alita: Battle Angel” movie.
When did you start thinking about another “Spy Kids” movie?
The “Spy Kids” have kids now – Alexa [Vega] has three and Juni [Daryl Sabara] has one. And I was like, Wow, it’s so crazy that I know a lot of people who grew up as kids watching these movies and now they have kids of their own. Time movies fast. I thought it’d be a great time to bring back as a real legacy moment for families, for parents to be able to show their kids the kind of movie they grew up with and have it still have things they remember but have updated gadgets and stuff.
And then that meant my own family, who have always been working on my movies since they could crawl and now they were my age. They’re the same age I was when I made “Desperado.” They’re contributing and coming out. And they’re saying, Hey, we grew up with a series. They said we’ve got to bring a safe house back, we got to have a video game element. They got certain things that you kind of had to do, but updated, and they had all these ideas for how to update the moive. My son came up with the idea of the video game locking technology, because the kids would have a believable edge. I thought, That’s really smart. It was just fun to make. And it’s so rare to be able to make a series of original films. There’s only one other filmmaker I know who’s written and directed his own series of films up to five so far. And that’s George Miller.
There are references to the original film but it’s not overwhelming. Was there ever thought of making this more of a legacy sequel?
I mean, because the legacy version you could do, but it’s been so long since the first one I thought, Well, let’s reestablish it. I had just done “We Can Be Heroes” for Netflix, which was a huge hit because kids can watch it as many times as they want. You know, my “Spy Kids” movies, you can only go to the theater so many times; your parents only take you to the theater so many times. After that they watch it on TV or on video over and over again. But you couldn’t track it like box office. What’s cool about Netflix is they know how many times kids rewatch this thing. That’s why it’s one of the top movies. I thought this would be a perfect to bring back “Spy Kids” and establish it first with a new family and then if it does really well we can always fall back with legacy players. But let’s first establish it with the new family, make sure it’s a solid success and then we can build from there.
You’ve come up with some of the most insane subtitles for these “Spy Kids” movies like “The Island of Lost Dreams” and yet this one is just “Armageddon.” Did this one ever have a nuttier name?
No “Armageddon” was actually the title for the fourth one. It ended up not being the story. They even have an Armageddon device in that film. But because there was such an element of time in it, I thought “All the Time in the World” fit better for it. When it came time to do this one we just wanted to sound like it’s massive, it’s just huge. You know, kids won’t even know what “Armageddon” means half the time. They’ll be like, what’s that big word? It was always the title. But I have an even better title for the next one if there is another one. I didn’t want to steal that one and pull it up early.
You’re still filming in Austin. How has your relationship with the city changed?
I met a whole new city to film in. I’ve filmed every inch of this place. And then in a blink of an eye, my kids and I joke we call them inflatable buildings – you turn around and there’s another one that we never even saw being built. It just went up so fast. And there’s so many high tech looking buildings. It’s incredible how high tech everything looks. And it’s like, I didn’t have to build anything. It was already right there. I love just being at home, that’s where my ideas are, so is my family. We love that we are able to make all these here in Austin. And then Austin keeps supplying me with new sets all these new buildings and streets and getting the film in front of the Capitol, which kids think is just called the “Spy Kids” building at this point. Shooting in front of the Capitol is always fun. We do it in almost all the movies.
Are there any of your other movies that you’d like to revisit?
I would love to revisit the “Desperado” series. I thought it was way ahead of its time. It’s really hard to do today, for me, anything with guns. Gun violence has gotten out of control. Even those are those are very tongue-in-cheek and kind of fun. It’s just hard to do. There’s always some terrible shooting and you just go, I don’t know if I can responsibly do anything with guns. I really love those films, they are so fun. They’re like “Spy Kids” for grownups, with guitar cases that fired missiles and gadgets galore. It was still made by kid. Still the glorification of it would be hard for me to pull off responsibly.
What about “Alita”? That’s the one everybody makes noise about online.
Yeah, Jim and I always talk about how we’d love to do another “Alita.” That studio [20th Century] was bought by another studio [Disney]. They’re starting to make movies now. But that for a while 20th Century wasn’t making any of their movies. I think now you’re seeing a few rolling out. We would love to.
Your friend Quentin Tarantino is about to close the book. Have you read the final script or anything?
He lives in Tel Aviv. I don’t really get to see him that much. But I have seen him a few times. I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t read the script. I’m looking forward to whatever he makes. It’s always a joy.
“Spy Kids: Armageddon” is on Netflix now.