Dir. Geoffey Sax, 2006, UK/ US/Germany, 93mins
Cast: Alex Pettyfer, Bill Nighy, Robert Coltrane, Stephen Fry, Damian Lewis, Ewan McGregor, Missi Pyle, Alicia Silverstone, Andy Serkis and Mickey Rourke
Review by Siôn Thomas Markham
I think I should start off by saying that I have never had the chance to gaze my eyes over the enthralling words of an Anthony Horowitz Alex Rider Novel. So, if I offend, slightly upset, and/or annoy any die-hard Rider obsessive fan then I apologise in advance. However, I am informed by a reliable 13-year-old source, who has read from the riveting Alex Rider instalments that he wasn’t enthralled.
In truth I thought StormBreaker would be a film about surfing. Shows how culturally informed I am!
We first meet 14-year-old Alex Rider (Pettyfer) blissfully living out his life, completely unaware his pastimes have, in fact, been a life-in-training in the very necessary skills of espionage. For what reason is never quite explained – over-parenting, maybe? Even when he executes marshal arts with the skill of a dragon dogo, specialising in 10 foot rope wielding, he’s still not convinced and fobs it off as extra curricula activity, not even when he’s recruited into the special operations division of MI6 by Mr Blunt (Bill Nighy). And it is with this stupid ignorance that he is like any other teenager. He’s well spoken, good looking, intelligent, polite, thoughtful, physically fit and all in all a well-balanced individual. The future of the country is safe in the hands of the hoody generation.
The narrative quickly throws us into a high-octane, fast motorbike chase. This sequence takes a convenient break, however, to convey the important emotional absence in the relationship between Master Rider and his Uncle. Alex believes that his legal guardian, Uncle Ian Rider (McGregor), is nothing but a mild mannered bank manager whose work takes him off around the world. In actual fact, Uncle Rider is a MI6 super spy! McGregor’s native accent has been absent in recent outings such as Star Wars, Robots and Big Fish, but hearing it as he delivers the lines as a shit hot MI6 spy just does not feel right, and gives just cause that he should never be given Bond.
However, tragedy ensues to make way for some narrative moving characters, notably Bill Nighy’s Mr Blunt, and it soon becomes apparent that an insecure, philanthropist manic, Darrius Sayle (Rourke), wants to destroy the education system by putting a StormBreaker computer in every school. That’s why Prime Minister Coltrane always proclaimed Education, Education, Education! Or am I blurring the lines between fact and fiction again?
See how it all comes together! A couple of explosions, a psychotic villain with some doggy looking Hench men - including a Portuguese man-o-war jelly fish - oh, and watch out for Golem, an ample supply of gadgets provided by Q, sorry, I mean Mr Smithers (Fry).
Get the girl, hang from a building and save the day - and have a cup of tea.
From the trailer you get an idea that this is going to be a pure espionage flick with its flash cars, high speed chases, gadgets galore with a dose of helicopters and guns. Which it does - and its great! Not to mention a galaxy of stars to dazzle us as we munch our popcorn. But I couldn’t help but feel slightly let down.
I wasn’t sure how to take this film. It was like watching a kid struggling to ride a bike but insistent that he could ride without the stabilisers. Was it a spy thriller or was it good old family entertainment for laughs? It can’t seem to define itself in style. Alex Pettyfer appears humourless when played opposite Nighy’s Mr Blunt or Jimmy Carr’s Crawford, or even Rourke’s Darrius Sayle. I especially enjoyed Rourke, who seems to have crafted his character around Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman, right down to his vivid erratic costume and stance. As for Mr Blunt, I do take delight from a Nighy performance and this is no exception.
Anthony Horowitz, (the poor man’s Ian Fleming) the author of Alex Rider books also writes the script, but it is just a bit too convenient and ultimately pointless at times, rushed through like a 45 minute Doctor Who episode.
Trying to tap into the pre-teen market that the Harry Potter franchise coined off so well, the film is well packaged. A teenage spy saving the world is nothing new. We’ve already been exposed to the delights of Spy Kids (remember, there was three of them!), Agent Cody Banks and, if any one remembers, the suitably named Teen Spy. To be fair these films did receive mixed blessings. But we screen audiences are getting tired of the same old tripe being pumped out of American studios. What does Rider bring to the table other then his well-spoken English accent and his ability to swing a 10-foot rope?
That’s right American, I said American! This film has been made with US money and packaged to distribute and sell well over the pond, which no doubt it will with it’s litter of American B-list Stars encrusted into the StormBreaker tale. Oh Mickey, it seemed like you were in line for a title match after Sin City! The fact that this film is perceived through and for American Eyes, thus selling it on English sensibilities - that we’ re a nation of tea drinkers, crickets and enjoy a bit of equestrianism - does not bother me. But it is being too obvious about it. But, if the British film industry needs to keep its head above water somehow, and if that means cutting a deal with the devil… well?
But like I said I’ve never read an Alex Rider adventure. The screen version of him may well be just like the novel version. Therefore StormBreaker has been made for all the right reasons - for the fans.