Running Time: 93 minutes.
Rated: Rated PG
While many adults have been absorbed by Ian Fleming's novels and the James Bond films for almost half a century, younger readers in more recent times have been following Harry Potter and Alex Rider. While J.K.Rowling has a worldwide ready and waiting audience for the movies, Anthony Horowitz, the author of the Alex Rider adventures, is best-known in the UK. So, the release of Stormbreaker has more of an impact for teenage audiences than on adults. The older adult reviewers tended not to like the film, not appreciating the sensibilities of the young
What to expect? Understandably, the film's marketeers are sick of hearing of the James Bond parallel and prefer that Alex Rider be seen as a hero in his own right. But, given the plot and the espionage action, the comparisons are inevitable. Was James Bond like this when he was 14?
At this age and stage of his life, Alex is a presentable and sturdy schoolboy. As embodied by Alex Pettyfer, he is a handsome, blonde and curly haired young British potential hero, to be imitated by the boys and something of a heartthrob for the girls. But the film doesn't have time for that kind of emotional or sappy goings on.
The film also has a PG rating which means that the action is suitable for its audience. Violence is more suggested than actual, although Alex is not bad at some basic but effective martial arts. At first he uses his wits and a fast-paced chase through London on a bicycle. But, then, his quiet uncle (Ewan McGregor) dies and he discovers that this uncle was a secret agent and had really been grooming Alex since he was little to follow in his footsteps.
When Bill Nighy (looking rather severe and pinched - maybe the effect of having that octopus on his chin throughout Pirates of the Caribbean) and Sophie Okenedo explain the truth and try to recruit him for a dangerous mission, then he is offered an entertaining (rather than deadly) arsenal of weapons by a genial Q type (Stephen Fry).
Special agents have to have a mission. A young agent has to have a mission that makes sense to teenagers. Enter Mickey Rourke (looking rather embalmed) as the villain of the piece. He is a wealthy American who went to public school in England and was bullied and mocked - which gives him his motivation for revenge. He is donating a new computer, The Stormbreaker, to every school and inviting the Prime Minister to a public ceremony to launch the online power all over the country. But he has something more sinister in mind...
So Alex Ryder infiltrates the headquarters in Cornwall, discovers the secrets, combats various villains (Andy Serkis, Damian Lewis and Miss Pyle as a latter-day Nazi-type assistant). Will he save the day - of course! But how will he do it? This leads to some over the top escapades and some split-second timing. The Prime Minister is played by Robbie Coltrane who gives a speech praising 'Education, Education...', then forgets his line and has to sneak a peek at his notes, ...Education'.
Just when you think it is all over, it isn't and there are some more chases through central London and deadly confrontations. And skin of the teeth cliff-hangers.
There are several more books in the Alex Ryder series. One hopes that the intended audience will give this film a welcome and that the producers will be encouraged to continue.
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and an associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.