Movie Review: Stormbreaker (2006)

Stormbreaker (2006) Artwork

Stormbreaker (which was retitled as Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker in America) is a 2006 action spy movie, the screenplay was written by Anthony Horowitz, who I was lucky enough to interview a few years ago while at college, who also wrote the book ‘Stormbreaker’ on which the screenplay and movie was based on back in 2000. This was the first big screen adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series, and was intended to be a franchise, however it bombed at the box office and failed to recoup its budget.

It starred a phenomenal cast of actors including Alex Pettyfer (noted for his roles in I Am Number Four, Beastly, and Magic Mike) as Alex Rider, Mickey Rourke (noted for his roles in Man on Fire, Iron Man 2 and The Expendables) as Darrius Sayle, Bill Nighy (noted for his roles in the Underworld franchise, The Pirates of the Carribean and Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy) as Alan Blunt, Sophie Okonedo (noted for her roles in The Secret Life of Bees, Christopher Robin and Doctor Who) as Mrs. Jones, Alicia Silverstone (noted for her roles in Clueless, Batman & Robin and American Woman) as jack Starbright, Sarah Bolger (noted for her roles in The Tudors, The Moth Diaries and Once Upon a Time) as Sabina Pleasure, Stephen Fry (noted for his roles in A Bit of Fry & Laurie, Jeeves and Wooster and V for Vendetta as well as being the host of popular British quiz show QI) as Smithers, Damian Lewis (noted for his roles in Band of Brothers, Homeland and Wolf Hall) as Yassen Gregorvich, Missi Pyle (noted for her roles in Galaxy Quest, DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story and Impulse) as Nadia Vole, Jimmy Carr (noted for being a stand-up comedian, and hosting the British panel shows 8 Out of 10 Cats and The Big Fat Quiz of the Year) as John Crawford and Ewan McGregor (noted for his roles in Trainspotting, Star Wars and Moulin Rouge) and Ian Rider. 

Okay so now that we’ve got that all out of the way let’s get this started properly I have to say that I was and to be honest still am a huge fan of the books, in no small part due to Anthony Horowitz’s incredible talent which has netted him not only an enormous fanbase, writing credits for Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Midsomer Murders, numerous other successful literary series but also the distinct and unique honour of contributing (with the full permission and authority of their estates) to the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Ian Fleming’s James Bond. I will also admit to some nostalgia as well, I read that first book as a kid, and it just gripped me, so much so that I vividly remember spending my pocket money that I’d saved up to buy a fairly expensive (at the time and for a kid) magazine, because it came with a copy of Stormbreaker, with a fancy alternative cover even though I already owned a copy just because I loved it so much. Horowitz has a way with words, a capacity for humour and wit, a creativity, an ability to make complexity seem simple, and fundamental human moments seem profound and complex and he can do all that at a reading comprehension level of most children.

So it’s fair to say that when I heard there was going to be a movie I was, to put it mildly overjoyed, and Eragon (which Pettyfer was also in the running for by the way) which came out later that same year in December 2006 hadn’t yet shattered my expectations for a book to movie adaptation, so I went to see it in the cinema with my wonderful older sister and if I am being completely honest I liked it. I mean it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, not because it was or wasn’t faithful to the source material, because much like with my recent review of the Artemis Fowl, which you can check out here by the way, it doesn’t need to be faithful to the source to be good or bad. That being said, however when adapting from an existing body of work you do need to be careful as there will always be people who are left unsatisfied. Oh also check out my review of the 2006 adaptation of Eragon which deals with similar topics by clicking here

I felt honestly even then that Alex Pettyfer was the perfect casting for Alex Rider, in looks and what I had taken on board of his personality, he felt fresh, genuine and just matched up with my internal image of the character. Bill Nighy as Alan Blunt also equally lived up to my expectations, to how I felt the character should look and act. Everyone else however to one degree or another did not quite meet that same internal measure for each character. That’s not to say that anyone delivered a bad performance, in fact it was reasonably well acted throughout but just they weren’t the characters they were supposed to be, Smithers in particular was a disappointment, don’t get me wrong, Stephen Fry is amazing, I can’t read Harry Potter without hearing his voice, but he wasn’t Smithers. His performance wasn’t bad but he didn’t line up physically or in terms of personality with the character in the books. He may as well have been a completely different person.

Another character who was changed was Herod Sayle, the wealthy Lebanese billionaire and developer of The Stormbreaker computer, adopted and educated in Britain, an immigrant who felt like an outsider, bullied for his accent and skin colour. He becomes Darrius Sayle, an American, who was ‘trailer trash’ and was sent to be educated in Britain after his mother won the lottery. I felt the change robbed the character of some of the legitimacy and vindication of his eventual misdeeds in the film. I do understand the decision, not wishing to paint immigrants in a negative light, nor British schoolchildren as that intolerant, it was easier to make him American, still bullied of course but without any real racial undertones that would be upsetting to a PG rating audience. The movie Sayle came across as very similar to Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which had the first outing for that character two years later in Iron Man which was released in 2008. Interestingly enough Sayle is portrayed by Mickey Rourke who starred as Russian physicist and ex-convict Ivan Vanko/Whiplash in the 2010 MCU film, Iron Man 2. Anyway, returning to the movie, and much like with Stephen Fry, I do not think Rourke’s performance was bad, certainly campy, but I enjoyed it, especially as a kid, but it did not feel like the character I had envisioned in the book and far more so than with Fry’s Smithers this was a completely different character, and not just in name, as I said above, even though I dislike bigotry, I felt that it was a vital part of book Sayle’s history and reasons for acting as he did, but comparatively the movie Sayle’s reasonings felt glib, petty and superficial, he was far more of a comic book villain than the Sayle in the books. 

Jack Starbright also underwent something of a transformation, again, that’s not to say I disliked Alicia Silverstone’s portrayal of the character she brought a distinct energy and vibe to the role, but whether because they got a fairly well known actor for a small role or not they decided to flesh out her character and gets a whole fight scene, and other action pieces inserted into the movie that most certainly weren’t part of the book. They were enjoyable and gave her some agency but if i am being honest go against the point of the book. Firstly the whole point of the books is essentially school boy wish fulfillment, if only we could all be so badass right? But that’s only possible in a world where adults are either incompetent or at least unable to, due to circumstances, intervene, but having Jack kick the red, white and blue out of Nadia Vole just steals some of the focus and attention away from Alex, and also means that adults could have been involved from the offset, therefore devalueing the internal and assumed logic of the narrative itself. Maybe I’m just nitpicking though, because she was enjoyable and it’s also good to see Alicia Silverstone.

Something I really did enjoy about the movie was the tone, it knew it was an action movie, and it executed that fairly well, but it also retained a sense of humour, that as I mentioned up top is a defining aspect of Horowitz’s work. A good example is during the opening scene where Alex is describing his family, going to great lengths to both exposit upfront who is who, but also about how ‘boring’ his uncle is while counterpointing it with the action sequencing of his uncle escaping from the distribution plant in Cornwall. Something that did occur to me upon rewatching, especially with a broader image of both Alex’s Uncle Ian, and the assassin Yassen Gregorovich, that the casting of both actors should have been reversed. Despite looking relatively similar, at least in my opinion, Damian Lewis (who plays Yassen) and Ewan McGregor (who plays Ian) look and act far more like the others characters, at least based on how I envisioned them from the books. It doesn’t really impact the story, but just something that struck me upon rewatching for this review.

But yeah, despite being kind of underwhelming overall, it was well produced and felt very much like the film I wanted but it just managed to fall short for the most part. I felt at times that for time sake they skipped over explanations and kind of montaged things away, but it and I’m aware I’ve said this a few times now, robbed certain parts of any real emotional resonance. A big one for me was the Special Air Service training boot camp in the Brecon Beacons, while the onscreen version was entertaining it felt too quick. I enjoyed the time, and it meant events later had more significance. I mean in my mind that was such a vivid and vital part of the story, because it gave us an impression of his physical abilities and a benchmark from which to judge his exploits, and it’s always better to show that than just tell us he knows Karate, but also was a transition between this and his first mission whereas because the movie only had an hour and 33 minutes it couldn’t afford to waste time, but in cutting out or rushing it, something was lost. 

On a more positive note, the pursuit scene with Alex as they go to the scrapyard was really well done, it was pretty much exactly as I imagined it, and it showed off Alex’s skill, determination and decisiveness all in one fell swoop. They even improved upon the whole scrapyard scene through Alex’s awesome fighting skills, although maybe I’m just a sucker for a choreographed fight scene.

So learning from comments regarding previous movie review I will not go through the movie scene by scene for this review, it’s a waste of my time and yours so I will say that there’s plenty to like about this film if you give it a chance, it’s fun, it’s got plenty of action, it has plenty of recognisable faces, it finds the right balance between humor and action which not all films can manage. It has a very Agent Cody Banks feel, although Alex Pettyfer is arguably a more believable action hero than Frankie Muniz, but despite all that it just didn’t feel fresh, it was easy to predict and didn’t really live up to its potential. It was easily forgettable and had an unnecessary, tacked on, romantic subplot that not only changed the origin of a character from the third book meaning there would have been an issue had there been sequels but was also so forced that it honestly just bored me.

I mentioned up top that Stormbreaker was a box office flop, it managed to make just over half ($23,937,870) of its $40 million budget, so that is categorically a failure just by numbers, however that’s not all up to the quality of the movie, because according to Anthony Horowitz, “Harvey Weinstein decided not to distribute it. It is one of the most bizarre and annoying things that the film didn’t get given its shot in America. To this day I don’t know why.” So without support from the American market, which the movie was undeniably catered for, of course it floundered. But with all things considered it’s not difficult to see why Horowitz himself said that while he didn’t hate the film, it essentially killed off the potential of a franchise. Fortunately for Horowitz, and all of the fans of Alex Rider this wasn’t entirely true, the franchise was reboot with a TV series which is available on Amazon Prime Video, and I will be reviewing season one of that, which you can check out here. But to wrap things up real quick, I think the film deserves a score of 2.5/5 because it wasn’t abysmal and much like Horowitz, I didn’t hate it but especially now as an adult it doesn’t do a whole lot, it isn’t even better than other teenage spy movies, and it just crushed all potential of an Alex Rider movie series, which meant I had to wait until 2020 to final see a live adaptation of my favourite Alex Rider book, Point Blanc come to pass.

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