Spy movies are enjoyable because they frequently dispense with logic in order to provide their thrills. Stormbreaker, based on an allegedly popular series of childrens’ books (I can be forgiven for not keeping up to date with the childrens’ literature), is designed specifically to be a sort of James Bond for children, right down to MI6.
Yet, with an M rating, not all children will be allowed to see Stormbreaker. Sure, maybe the tweens and teens will, but none of the children of overprotective parents. To that end, I chose to go in their stead.
What we have in Stormbreaker is a spy story that features a villain with a feasible plan that is well executed, but the worst motive for super villainy ever. It’s not rocket science and, at several points, it is nothing more than an advertisement for Nintendo, but that doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable.
Ian Rider (Ewan McGregor) is an MI6 operative with a nephew, Alex, in his care. While in the field, Rider gets killed by a Russian hanging upside down from a helicopter. Alan Blunt (Bill Nighy), head of MI6’s Special Ops, comes to realise that Ian was grooming his nephew, and orders that he join their organisation and train further.
About an hour later, Alex is charged with infiltrating the organisation of Darrius Sayle (Mickey Rourke), whose plans to install a super computer (the ominously named and impractically designed titular Stormbreaker) in every school in Britain have caught MI6’s suspicion.
This is the sort of movie that has set pieces that exist simply to be set pieces, like Alex using his bike to slide under a car in a mechanic’s shop, and a trip through a computer lab that looks more like a steelworks. I am fine with all of this, but I feel that Alex Rider’s problem, being only 14, is that he only seeks to survive and not be seen rather than actively attempting to ascertain what is going on in any given situation.
Darrius Sayle’s plan and the execution thereof make sense, but the motivation of the character is just about the stupidest I have ever seen in this sort of movie. Mickey Rourke essentially plays an emo, you see. This makes his plight more understandable to the target audience, I suppose, but they can also understand most 007 plots; w don’t really need to condescend to people to make schemes more topical, because they stretch even my disbelief.
The level of violence expended to reach these ends is far more implicit than explicit, but some parts of the film are heavily stylised. Nadia Vole (Missi Pyle), the vaguely Teutonic assistant of Sayle, seems uptight at first but eventually slides into kinkiness with the assistance of Andy Serkis’ grotesque Mr. Grin. The sudden equation of sadism comes as a shock, but ties in expertly with the gimmickry of her death sequence. The nature of that scene serves only to emphasise the great biological and physical inaccuracies of this sort of film, but there’s no room to complain because you’re either wincing in wonder or being ushered across to the next scene.
The rest of the acting is far from subtle, with Bill Nighy taking on another of his few note characters; I really couldn’t tell if he was playing it for laughs or he was being straight. His character provides wild contradictions that my brain couldn’t even begin to comprehend. Stephen Fry takes over from there as the film’s equivalent of Q, operating as a toy store owner and a product placer for Nintendo – Alex’s key gadget is a Nintendo DS, for something’s sake! – and he shines for a few brief seconds.
The rest of the big names are featured minimally, with the exception of Alicia Silverstone, Alex’s guardian. She and Missi Pyle work together to create the film’s most bizarre, embarrassing sequence: a fight ‘twixt a knife and a blowfish, with cartoon cats getting electrocuted on the television. There were only four other people in the cinema with me, so I did not need to hide my pain.
I’m all for children’s films that everyone can see, but sometimes a children’s film is clearly just for the children. Stormbreaker is something that is in the strange no-man’s land of being too violent for the delicate little children of Australia (wimps), but is sometimes too juvenile even for someone as slightly developmentally arrested such as myself. It’s mildly entertaining … but it also has a leaning towards the overly stupid, even for the genre. Knowing me, I’ll go and see the sequel; I can guarantee you I’ll be as incoherent about that, too.