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November 7, 2014

VGFlicks: Spy Kids 3D: Game Over, Part 1

Remember when I said, a while ago, that movies about virtualization were mostly good? “Mostly”, as in, they're not all good? Well... Here's a prime example of this. You know, being thrown into a video game (literally) means that the characters will see some outlandish worlds, some odd creatures, and some real threats. How can we have all this make even less sense? I know! Let's insert a world domination plot! That must be foiled in the video game! It will be like James Bond, except... Not! ...Besides, James Bond is too cool to play video games. His life is already that of a video game hero. ...Oh, and let's make it even better: Make it in 3D! As part of a franchise that has proven successful with children thanks to the crazy adventures, witty dialogs, and comedy! And a cartoony feel to it all!

Thus Spy Kids 3D: Game Over was born. It was the lowest-rated Spy Kids movie for a long while... Until the fourth film came out eight years later, in 2011. But I'm not here to talk about a bad, bad, bad movie today; just a bad one.

This movie was MADE for 3D. Heck, the Dimension Films logo explodes in your face in the first few seconds. And then, Troublemaker Studios, also using 3D. And then the credits and the film's title fly in your face- STOP!

It's gonna blow... it's gonna blow... it's gonna blow...
Ka-boom! It blows! ...The Dimension Films logo, I mean.
You thought I meant the movie?
You know what? I'll be the first one to admit it, 3D can add to a viewing experience. If the 3D is there and provides immersion (something that couldn't be done until Avatar in 2009), you can feel like you're inside the movie. It's great. However, if the 3D is mostly a succession of things that fly towards your face, it's not as great. It stops being cool and it starts feeling forced. And if it happens every few seconds, rather than every few minutes with strategically-placed objects to give a 3D effect, it goes beyond feeling forced: It's like the director is trying to shove the 3D down our throats. Heck, watch a pre-2009 3D movie and count the number of obvious occurrences of something going towards the camera, as a way of saying "This is supposed to be 3D, guys!" It's annoying.

Daryl Sabara is now mostly known as the voice of
Rex Salazar from Generator Rex. Pretty cool.
We open on Juni Cortez (portrayed by Daryl Sabara), patrolling a water-park as an ex-spy... He's been called there because he recycled himself as a private eye. But the work he does is not as amazing: He looks for lost toys, saves cats from trees... Wow, Juni describes this silly situation with so much serious that it's difficult not to laugh at the absolute absurdity of the situation. Thankfully, he's been able to fill his piggy bank, and now he has enough cash to buy a virtual reality immersion video game called Game Over. A TV newscaster played by Sylvester Stallone loudly proclaims that Game Over was created by someone known only as the Toymaker and is the “greatest game ever made”. Geez, what happened to journalism objectivity these days? Gone down the drain along with FOX News' credibility? After losing his place in the waiting line, Juni trips, breaks his piggy, and loses most of the money he has earned.

"Now that we're done talking about Game Over, let's start
talking about ethics and objectivity in games journalism."

Dixie Kong, leave that body!
Back at his headquarters, Juni receives a visitor: Gerti Giggles, who comes flying into his treehouse thanks to her pigtails, which act as helicopters. ...Wish I was making that up. What, video game physics work in the real world, here? ...Is it too early to put a funnel on my head?

After a not-so-well-acted discussion between the two child actors in which she tells Juni that the entire world is his family, Gerti leaves the same way she came in: With those unnatural pigtails to make her fly. ...I'm gonna keep a funnel on standby. I might need it.

Juni gets a call from the President (played by – oh my God – Is that George Clooney???), who tries to convince him to go back as a spy working for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services?). Juni refuses... until Clooney whams him with a decisive line: Juni's sister Carmen is missing. Juni is immediately sent to the OSS's headquarters, which themselves look like a video game location. Seriously.

Oh yeah. For a spy agency, this is a very subtle design. All we need now is
a "This is not the OSS Headquarters, move along" sign.

And thus Juni is brought to Donnagon and Francesca Giggles (What an odd family name...). The two spies immediately tell him that something's wrong with the game titled Game Over. Pardon me the obvious joke, but I had to do it.

The Toymaker imprisons the minds of the playing children inside the game, which means they literally can't stop playing. Their body stops functioning. As for what happened to Carmen? She played Game Over, and now she's like in a coma or something. And her mind is trapped in the game. She went in there alone because Juni wouldn't, and reached Level 4 before all communication was cut with the OSS.

Juni has twelve hours to shut the game down or else all the children will be under the Toymaker's control. Apparently, that villain (played by Sylvester Stallone – Holy crud, so many celebrities in this cast!) had been locked in cyberspace years ago by the OSS, and must not be released. So Juni has to shut everything down but not release the Toymaker? Okay... I'm starting to suspect this film was written on child-friendly acid.

I don't think all the gamers get sent into the game that way...

Look out for Jessica Rabbit lookalikes. They're crazy.
Juni is plugged to a machine, puts on a pair of glasses – the same 3D glasses that were given out to the moviegoers when this was in theatres – and is then thrown into the game, in an exaggerated fashion. He appears in... Toontown, I guess. Level 1 looks like a cartoon city. There are frogs jumping around on pogo-sticks and, oh God, the CGI on these creatures is HORRENDOUS! This movie's effects haven't aged well at all! More things fly in your face, such as coins, frog tongues and the like, as the frogs gang up on another gamer and steal his coins. I can't get myself to watch this CGI. It makes the Nintendo 64's graphics look good. It looks like something out of a shovelware game! That same gamer defeats the bunch of Pogo-Toads, then picks up his coins again, and steals a Pogo from one of the Toads.

3D from the SNES era looks good compared to this!

Juni tries to do the same, but winds up on a Pogo ridden by another gamer. That guy throws him off, and Juni falls in a manhole labeled “Exit”.

Oh yeah. This effect is totally believable.
God, the effects in this movie... I remember liking them, but now... Urk. Everything looks extremely fake, even for a video game. Everything is too static. The creatures, the CGI objects... everything is just ugly or moving bizarrely. It's almost ridiculous. The pogo sticks in the first level don't even seem to acknowledge their collision with the ground, before they jump again! You could make the argument that it was all done on purpose; it's the game's style, it's only 2003, computer-generated imagery was already better than that in video games – Heck, it was a lot better in most movies too. I could buy if this was the game's style, but dammit, Foodfight has parts that are animated better than this!

Juni finds himself in the sewers, stared at by a prototype of Wheatley from Portal 2. The kid lost one Life Point; thankfully he had 9, so he's still alright. However, the watch on his wrist indicates less than five hours remaining. Wait. How did he go from 12 hours to 5? Did he faint for 7 hours? This makes no sens- Ah, you know the drill.

Eventually the team behind Portal 2 scrapped the idea of
Wheatley having a robotic face; he was deemed too creepy.

The paper says "Ram into me".
When Juni is brought back to the surface, he meets three gamers who turn out to be beta testers for the game: Rez, Francis and Arnold. They decide to help Juni, even if they don't know he's an OSS spy (although I'm willing to bet they wouldn't have believed him anyway) and tell him how to reach Level 2: By jumping into a target which will act like a mega-trampoline sending him on the moon. “Not a lot of realism in these games, is there?” Juni remarks. GEE, I hadn't noticed!

Quite a calm place... it's the Moon, what did you expect?
The spy crash-lands on the Moon, loses a Life Point, and gets a call from the OSS. They give him the opportunity to have an ally in the game, taken straight from his family. And no, not a “copy” made by the game, either; we're talking the real person. Juni picks his wheelchair-bound grandfather, Valentin Magellan, played by the late Ricardo Montalbán, famous among geek circles for playing KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAN! in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, in case you hadn't guessed. The OSS literally sends Juni's grandfather in the game in an hour. And that hour passes in a matter of seconds.

Different body for Montalbán, same background.
No, seriously! Its the exact same background!
Discussing with his grandpa (who's still in a wheelchair), Juni learns that he and the Toymaker are sworn enemies, and Valentin has been chasing that madman for decades. A power-up appears on which it's written “Mega Legs”; Juni tosses it to his grandfather, who breaks it open and gains a super-robotic body with enhanced legs. Holy crud, the old man is the coolest character in this film! However, Valentin trails away, using his new legs. He leaves Juni helpless, forced to continue alone for a little longer. Way to lose that coolness, grandpa...

How can I describe that performance? Um... He's clearly
having fun?
We get a scene with the Toymaker, and God does Stallone ham it up. Just like Michael C. Hall in Gamer, he's the mastermind behind the game, completely nuts, and a real treat to watch. But one Stallone can't make enough ham; we needed an entire pigpen... So they cloned Stallone through the power of special effects! The Toymaker has three counselors who are extensions of himself, all played by Stallone as well: A general, a mad scientist, and... a hippie. However, they're not physical beings, they're just holograms. By the way, the Toymaker has captured Carmen. On this, without any transition, we cut to the next scene.

"You magnificent bastard, I read your book!"
"Of course! Don't you know anything about science?"
"Imagine there's no Heaven, it's easy if you try..."

Rock-paper-scissors? A handshake?
ERither way, one of you two is going DOWN!
Juni, still on the moon, enters a coliseum where battles between giant robots take place. Why? Because kids dig giant robots. The kid has to battle an enemy mech in order to reach Level 2. And who does he fight? A girl named Demetra, who seems just as scared as he is. (Guess chicks dig giant robots too.) He quickly loses the first round. He wins the second round almost by luck, and then uses over-the-top moves in the third round like he's piloted that kind of robot for years. Geez, talk about a sudden champion. Wished I got so good so fast at some games... He wins the third round and gets to keep the upgraded armor he wore during the fight.

Yes, you are witnessing a large kart throwing a pie. At least the Bloopers
made sense in Mario Kart.
Juni gets sent back to the planet in the game. There, he is identified as “The Guy” by the three beta testers. Apparently, “The Guy” is a super-great player who will lead everyone else to victory... when they reach the final level. Jesus, not the Messiah character trope again... But in order to prove he's “The Guy” (a title Juni doesn't even want; he just wants to retrieve his sister and stop the Toymaker), he has to win a race. That race leads to the third level. ...What was Level 2, then? Was it the mech battle? The way back to the planet? We didn't see that! Are we missing something here? Hel-looooo!!! P.S. The race's announcer claims that the only rule in this game is to “win, at any cost”. ...Even if the whole thing is unwinnable. Juni has to race against Rez, Francis, Arnold... and Demetra. Wait, didn't she LOSE the robot fight? What the Hell? The race cars are equipped with all sorts of crazy (or stupid) weapons, like a pie thrower (Wish I was making that up). Rez uses a dirty tactic to throw Juni off his car. Gosh, these guys are a-holes! Thankfully, Juni is picked up from the racetrack by his grandfather.

Okay, this is a race, not a freaking boss fight!
...Wait. How did Demetra get that large machine???
Okay, I both hate and love this race. It's the most over-the-top race I've ever seen, video game or not. But at the same time... It's too over-the-top! You can't take it seriously! There's a section where they have to jump and land on the other side. Then, one of the guys uses a Ultra Hand thing to punch Juni! (And again, the glove gets right into our face in magnificent ugly 3D.) Even Mario Kart never reached those levels of silly! There should be a limit on how intense a race can be! And then later there's a section where everyone falls down, possibly to their doom! I might be nitpicking, but it's still stupid! The race ends with Juni cornered by Demetra in a large machine, and wins in the most exaggerated fashion ever: sliding on a round piece of machinery that came from his bike, because everything else had been destroyed. He still wins.

...Hero immunity, I guess?

It's weird. I don't trust that girl. Maybe because she almost
beat Juni at robot fights and almost defeated him in a race?
...Yes, female gamers can be great, but I actually mean that
there's more to her than she lets out.
Now the beta testers really consider Juni to be The Guy. Even Demetra, who says “I heard you're the Guy.” What do you reply to that? “Um... I heard you liked Mudkips?” (Gen 3 came out in 2003!) Juni realizes the game will be easier if he's got a team to help him, so he pretends to be The Guy for now. Valentin Magellan even shows up and confirms that the upcoming challenges will be easier if they form a team.

Wait a second: No one in this game has figured out that it would be easier to beat the game if they made teams? Guys - and gal -, that has been a part of MMORPGs for a LONG time... I think it was there even before 2003. Either they were so convinced they could win alone that they wouldn't let anyone help them, or they were lured into playing alone with that dumb set of non-rules also known as “do anything to win”.

The team walks to the next level (wait, didn't the race technically count as Level 3? Or was it Level 2? Or... Urgh, I'm confused. Stop confusing me, movie!). On the way, Juni learns about the Programmers, a bunch of shadowy figures who work for the Toymaker and are tasked with sending back to Level 1 any player who seems to be doing unusually well. The gang splits up, so Juni finds himself alone again (even Grandpa trails off). However, Demetra goes back to him, and says it's obvious he isn't The Guy. I mean, he keeps talking about a sister he has to rescue in Level 4, and he talks to that old man who sure shouldn't be playing video games, and which he calls “Grandpa”, so... yeah, your cover was blown pretty quick, Juni. Demetra has a map of the game's world (could you really cartography suck a clusterf- I mean, such a mess of a world? I doubt it). But having such a thing is illegal and would mean instant Game Over if they got caught using it. Heck, that's probably the reason the Programmers are chasing them right now. And surely, they get caught.

When you wanna get rid of nosy kids, you either hire goons
or dress in a monster costume. It works, most of the time.

So according to Robert Rodriguez, gamers are not cool?
...Or it's the programmers that are not cool?
I'm confused.
Or rather, the programmers nag them... until Juni's grandpa shows up in his super suit, which lets him pick them up and raise them off the ground. The beta testers come by and analyze the true appearance of the programmers; they're stereotypical nerds. ...Please, movie, don't go that route. Don't start insulting nerds too. I've seen enough insults to gamers in that Gamer flick... Besides, I'm already ashamed enough of stereotypical gamers as it is now... The programmers run away, which means the heroes can move on even though they got a map to cheat their way through.

The Stallone Four: Worst Boy Band ever.
Meanwhile, the group is being spied on by Stallone and his clones. Seriously, four Stallones at once, it's impressive and really funny. I don't think anyone in the review world went beyond three characters played by the same person at once in the same shot. Heck, even in Hollywoodian productions, it's still pretty rare. Oh well. You want to see how hammy the Toymaker is? He loudly proclaims “It's not a game... IT'S LIFE!” while making an exaggerated pose.

"ADRIEEEEEEENNE! Oh wait, wrong movie."

Just in case you hadn't guessed, that Life Box was supposed
to be 3D at the screening in theaters. Subtle.
The Toymaker and his three underling selves decide to send a Life Pack in Juni's way. It can increase his HP by an unknown number. When Juni sees it, he instead chooses to give it to Demetra. And when she refuses, he uses it... and then blows the virtual dust at her. She regains all of her Hit Points.

NOW they're in Level 3. Or, well, I think they are. Damn, that was long... You know what? I think it would be better if I continued this in a second part. This review will not take me three parts, but I will definitely need a second one by now. See you next time!

I might need a week to recover from that weirdness...