Briefly branding Alex Pettyfer “hot property” off the film’s expected anticipation, and somehow managing to ensemble a cast of such weight as Ewan McGregor, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Nighy and Mickey Rourke, the Alex Rider name was an intended film series that floundered on arrival with the release of Stormbreaker back in 2006.
Underperforming in its native UK and barely even registering in the US market – thanks, in large part, to release interference from tyrant Harvey Weinstein – Alex Rider was laid to extended rest not long after. As the spy genre continues to (mostly) succeed on the big screen, now seems as good a time as any for a planned resurgence of the character, in a format that seems far more fitting; series author Anthony Horowitz stated that he believes the Alex Rider novels “don’t translate well” to the big screen.
Right from the get-go of this first season, Alex Rider is a series built on concise plotting, imminent threat, and a mentality that few characters feel remotely trustworthy – at least going off the 3 episodes that were available for review. Otto Farrant makes a fine impression as the titular teenage spy who, somewhat unwillingly, is pulled into a world of espionage after his uncle (Andrew Buchan) dies in a circumstance he doesn’t believe to be true.
The early scenes do their best to give us an impression of Rider as a rebellious-ish teen, the dynamic with his uncle, and the grounded relationships he has with his housekeeper (a likeable Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo) and his inquisitive best friend (Brenock O’Connor, less likeable). There are undeniable shades of the Mission: Impossible series and the rebranded Tomb Raider, and comparisons to fellow “baby Bond” Kingsman are likely to be inevitable, and tonally there’s certainly nothing wrong with being linked in with such company. But trying to establish its own identity proves a little hard, and much of what takes place in the early episodes (it runs for a total of 8 for the season) don’t exactly break the spy genre mould in any fashion.
Though for all of the tropes it seems intent on embracing, Alex Rider can’t help but entice the viewer with each new reveal and narrative advancement. And though the teen mentality of the character and the show means fans of grittier Bourne-style violence may feel underwhelmed with its PG temperament, there’s enough rugged soul injected into proceedings to stop it from ever completely descending into kid-friendly fare.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Alex Rider is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video.