Film Review: Stormbreaker (2006)

Alex Pettyfer stars as teenager Alex Rider in this teenage 'James Bond-esque' adventure.
Alex Pettyfer stars as teenager Alex Rider in this teenage ‘James Bond-esque’ adventure.

This is not my usual type of review. Looking at films of yesteryear, unless attached to a particular season (i.e. Christmas) is not usually for here – but Stormbreaker is an exception. There is always one film you see the trailer for, and don’t get round to watching – in this case it has been eight years. Based on the Anthony Horowitz novel of the same name, Stormbreaker bills itself as almost like ‘teenage James Bond’. It centres on fourteen year old Alex Rider (Alex Pettyfer) whose Uncle (Ewan McGregor) is assassinated for being a secret agent and as a result is recruited into MI6 himself as a special agent to investigate the Stormbreaker computers being installed into schools across the country by Darrius Sayle (Mickey O’Rourke) – having discovered the computers are a cover to unleash a deadly strain of smallpox – it is up to Alex to stop them.

There is a lot to like about this film. Firstly there is a whole host of British stars throughout that give it a real James Bond vibe. Bill Nighy, Stephen Fry, Jimmy Carr and Sophie Okonedo all make up the civil service and even Robbie Coltrane (better known as Hagrid from Harry Potter) makes a guest appearance as the Prime Minister. Alex Rider is also the teenage boy with the hobbies that fourteen year old boys would love to have – martial arts, rifle shooting and abseiling being just a few of them. In addition the choice of Alex Pettyfer was always going to appeal to the right market – bearing in mind at this point he had just finished appearing in Tom Brown’s Schooldays for ITV and was very much a fresh faced sixteen year old when this was released.

On paper this film looks exciting – Alex Rider could easily be the boy teenage boys want to be, and the boy teenage girls want to date. What lets this film down is the execution. Stormbreaker was supposed to start off an Alex Rider franchise in a similar vein to Harry Potter or Twilight. The big problem here however is that despite a gritty plot on paper, this is very much watered down in the finished product. For example Alex Rider meets the James Bond ‘Q’ equivalent as played by Stephen Fry in Hamley’s – the film is given a very ‘light’ feel throughout. Even when Alex Rider is placed in real danger, it doesn’t actually feel like anything bad is going to happen.

In many ways the problem with this execution is not so much the issue of the actors – though Bill Nighy and Ewan McGregor do give their best ‘CBBC’ style performances – but the issue of direction. In comparison to the book, much more use is made of gadgets over guns and violence – for example a fountain pen that when fired at someone makes them obedient to you for six hours – this is used to make Mr Grin (one of Mr Sayle’s henchmen) take Alex to London to prevent the Stormbreaker launch. This stretches the realism to almost beyond breaking point – and inexplicable given the violence and action Alex displays at the start of the film.

Overall, this film is worth a watch, but not worth going out of the way to see. My creative mind suggests that this film is probably ripe for a remake and a rethink. There is a gap in the market for a ‘teenage James Bond’ series and Alex Rider would certainly fill the gap – but it needs to push the boundaries more in terms of the darkness and complexity shown in other similar franchises. In many ways its a shame the idea hasn’t been developed further, as the books have such superb reviews. If I were Anthony Horowitz I’d be looking at the release of ‘Kingman’, a similarly pitched film with a less serious vibe, closely. A relaunched Alex Rider could prove a worthy rival….

Stormbreaker is being shown on FilmFour on Christmas Day at 2.35pm and an hour later on +1. The books are available to buy online and at all good bookshops.