Martin Carr reviews the first season of Amazon’s Alex Rider…
Fourteen years after Stormbreaker which briefly made a star of Alex Pettyfer and reminded people how good Damian Lewis might have been as Bond, comes this Amazon adaptation. Sporting no big names and featuring the involvement of author Anthony Horowitz, it carries a distinctly cutting edge techno thriller vibe. Adapted by acclaimed novelist Guy Burt Alex Rider is concisely plotted and establishes threat quickly.
Fronted by Otto Farrant in the title role it uses an urban soundtrack combined with an inner city London feel, cross cutting between high rise big business and secondary modern contemporary classrooms. Performance highlights in early episodes come from Andrew Buchan’s Rider senior and Nyasha Hatendi’s affable government spook. There are shades of Mission: Impossible for minnows, obvious comparisons to Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman and a splash or two of a certain Tomb Raider reboot tonally. None of these influences are a bad thing but it does create an inherent obstacle when establishing identity.
There are some nice character touches including some impromptu parkour, a subtle Kurosawa reference and a telling use of mobile phone communication, while Farrant equips himself well. Opposite Ranke Adekoluejo’s Jack or in the face of nameless adversaries this Alex Rider feels robust and adaptable. Leaps of faith are few but the action is believable, acting the right side of tongue in cheek whilst balance is carefully monitored.
Although much has been made of the grittier edge to this adaptation blood is sparingly used, violence remains effective and has consequences. In most instances scenes play out without the traditional use of humour to undercut any menace, which maintains momentum and edges towards adult content without actually going that far. We are still in the world of a teenage spy which makes Alex Rider drift into the realm of Spy Kids on occasion, before thankfully righting that wrong.
Comparisons between the film of 2006 which featured Robbie Coltrane, Ewan McGregor and Alicia Silverstone are an exercise in futility. Alex Rider Amazon style has four times as long to create depth, instil character flaws and examine this teenager in ways its counterpart never could. Pettyfer and Farrant approach the role from similar perspectives and are equally adept based on this evidence. Without that star studded roster of character actors vying for screen time, Amazon can concentrate on giving us a young Jack Ryan franchise with staying power.
Guy Burt’s adaptation is smart, slick and concisely written. It takes full advantage of spy tropes, embraces clichés but updates them for a contemporary audience. With international destinations, nefarious villains and double agents abound, this Alex Rider takes a little GoldenEye before weaving in some Craig era Bond action for those who like it up close and personal.
Although this latest crack at the book series is unlikely to set the world on fire it provides solid entertainment, measured performances and breadth. Some people say Alex Rider tries too hard to please everyone but in an era defined by demographics, aiming for a broad spectrum is better than remaining in the minority.