Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker
It's funny that the posters for Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker say, "Rule the School. Save the World." The irony? Never once do we see teen spy Alex (Alex Pettyfer) ruling his school. In fact, we hardly see him doing anything teen-related. He's shown sitting in class once. And he carries some textbooks. But unlike films like Agent Cody Banks and Spy Kids, the youthful flavor implied by the tagline is completely missing.
Without a teen zest, a youthful joy or themes specific to being a young spy, Stormbreaker isn't a teen spin on James Bond movie. It is a James Bond movie with a younger actor (and no sex). The character's age brings nothing new, fun or fresh to the character or the adventure.
In fact, the script—based on the best-selling Alex Rider book series by Anthony Horowitz (who wrote the screenplay)—could have literally been recycled from a Bond movie. The only changes are that the promiscuity is deleted and a new exposition is added to explain the young age of our hero. Alex was orphaned as a child and raised by his uncle Ian (played by Ewan McGregor in a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo). When tragedy strikes, Alex finds out that his uncle wasn't always absent because of any bank job—but because he worked for the government. Alex is then swept into the plot of an eccentric criminal mastermind—with ironically named henchmen, like Mr. Grin—who wants to take over the world with an absurdly over-the-top plan. Alex even has his own "M" and "Q" characters.
Had we seen more of Alex Rider getting to be a teen before getting into the thick of the "save the world" part, it would have felt more removed from the Bond milieu. The film would have had more life. And the peril, danger and Alex's accomplishments would have meant more. In fact, what's missing is Alex Rider, the person. At the end of the movie all we know about him is: 1) He was orphaned, 2) He has a crush on a girl, and 3) He's a great problem-solver and fighter.
Without portraying Alex as a teen first, the film drops any joy and excitement of seeing him discover a world beyond homework and study hall. There's just no sense of awe—and little real fun escapism. And it's not like there weren't open doors for scenes of joyous adventure. We hear about how Alex has enjoyed a childhood of great adventures with Uncle Ian (scuba diving, mountain climbing, martial arts, etc.)—but we never see them. There are some thrilling and slick action sequences, but when Alex does get to the derring-do, it's so serious that there's little joy in seeing him work and conquer.
There was also an open door for a teen-specific theme that is left unrealized. The film's villain, Darrius Sayle (played to smug and sleazy perfection by Mickey Rourke) turns out to be scarred by his youth. In fact, his entire evil scheme is directly related to school-age abuse by other teens. Being picked on, ostracized and called names for years left Darrius bitter, angry and scornful to the point of wanting to harm innocent people. In a current climate of bullied teens lashing out in acts of violence, this theme is ripe for discussion—and cleverly brought up. But then it's dropped. If we had a better understanding of Alex as a student, this theme could have been more resonant. Maybe Alex also has been picked on and could relate to Darrius—but he'd know that feeling pain is no excuse for causing it. Or if Alex had been a bully, Darrius' example could have shown Alex the error of his ways and lead to some repentance. Instead, Alex says, "So what? You were bullied. A lot of people are bullied"—and then the film goes back to the standard Bond plot. When Alex later expresses a desire to get revenge on a man who caused him pain, you wonder if he's really any different than Darrius. But the film doesn't seem to notice this contradiction.