Friday, March 5, 2010

Alex Rider: Stormbreaker

If one's taste can be skewered by their early experiences, there's no question James Bond changed mine. My love of British things, my love of action movies, my love of bombastic musical scores, my love of elaborate flash, all of it can be traced directly back at watching Bond films on CTV during their annual big marathons. As a result, at 14, I had the idea for an exciting action movie about the child of Bond, starring me! This was in spite of neither being athletic or an actor, but escapist fantasy is, by definition, mostly unrelated to reality. While it doesn't star me, someone did essentially make that movie, and they called it Alex Rider: Stormbreaker.

They called him Alex Rider - played by Alex Pettyfer - but he's the son of a James Bond-esque secret agent played by Ewan McGregor in a surprisingly brief role. Bond is killed, and Alex is brought in Alan Blunt (Bill Nighy, who is acting in bulk) and MI:6 (which includes Jimmy Carr, who as an actor, makes a great dead-eyed panel-show guest), which needs another way in to the compound of one Darrius Sayle (Mickey Rourke, in eyeliner and dressed like a pimp). Yes, it is irresponsible to send a 14 year old to be a super spy and possibly kill people - something pointed out by Alex's caretaker Jack, played by an Alicia Silverstone who is still, sadly, recovering from the career coma induced by appearing in Batman and Robin. The standard Bond tropes apply, there's a dastardly plan to kill everyone, big elaborate sets, ridiculous henchmen - albeit here played by actors who are hamming it up to the MAX - some decent action and plenty of great set pieces. Unlike Bond films, it also has a moral about bullying. Yes kids, if you bully someone they'll try to murder everyone, and you'll become really fat like Robbie Coltrane.

In some ways, it's basically a Roger Moore Bond film. Not completely serious, plenty of edits to make it acceptable for younger teens, and a plot that keeps rolling and provides lots of opportunities for good action and excitement. Some fight scenes are clearly edited to get a PG, but as James Bond's non-union equivalent, it does the job admirably. Since it has literally every actor working in Britain in a bit part, there are a lot of familiar faces and good performances - if Q returns to real Bonds, he should be Stephen Fry - and while some people get a bit ridiculous, I've seen real Bond films that are worse.

That's actually the best thing about Stormbreaker. It follows the formula to perfection, but there are entries in the actual series that don't do it as well. This has better pacing and more appropriate tone than Moonraker, Pettyfer is a better actor than George Lazenby, the evil plot is significantly more interesting, coherent, and better executed than Die Another Day, and the villains significantly more threatening and complex than anyone in The Man With The Golden Gun.

Another good thing is that it doesn't talk down to the kids. Fine, the moral of the story is a bit silly, but Rider is a smart, witty young man, the overall tone is catches that the kids it's being pitched at are starting to get more serious, and it does the dastardly plan thing as well as any other film with one. It's just a well paced, nicely made action film, except with a younger hero.

About the worst I can say about it is it's just another action movie, except pitched a bit younger. But, if I'm honest, it took me back to when I was 14, and I wanted nothing more than to be the centre of a massive action film with explosions, car chases, and guns. Bond films might have skewed my tastes a lot, but as a result, I can even appreciate the knockoffs. And hell, it doesn't hurt that the knockoff is just as good or better as some of the examples of the real thing.

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