When I was younger – probably around 12 or 13, although I can’t remember exactly – I was obsessed with the Alex Rider books, by Anthony Horowitz. Granted, I don’t recall an enormous amount about what went on in those books, until a couple of days ago I didn’t even know that they were still being written. I think my school library had them up to ‘Snakehead’, the sixth or seventh? and for some reason I just assumed that was the end of the series.
Amazon’s latest Original series isn’t the first time that there’s been an effort to turn the books into a multimedia franchise. Alex Pettyfer played him in a 2006 film version of ‘Stormbreaker’ the first book, and well, it didn’t go well. It bombed at box office, making back around half of it’s budget, and I haven’t yet found anyone who doesn’t think it’s a steaming pile of crap. Although that’s no surprise – rather like Harry Potter, how on earth are you going to create a new world, a load of new people, a concept and a thrilling story such as that in under 2 hours of screentime?
This certainly isn’t – six hours of television, broken into eight 45-minute parts. It manages to combine the first two stories and create a new one, perhaps one which is more suited to the glamorous streaming of 2020. It combines ‘Stormbreaker’ – i.e., that Alex becomes an agent after trying to find out who killed his uncle, Ian – and ‘Point Blanc’, the book I actually remember in a decent amount of detail – taking place at a school in the French Alps, which contains a lot of suspicious goings on. Combined, it’s a very interesting premise.
If I hadn’t read the books when I was younger, there is no way I would have decided to watch this. Spies are still interesting to me (obviously) but it seemed too close to the teen drama efforts of Netflix which are, quite simply, horrendous. Honestly, if a show has Netflix Original in it, and a cast made up largely of teenagers, unless you have the maturity or sense of humour of a 12 year old, avoid them. Thankfully, Alex Rider never stoops to this level, partly because it’s actually well acted. Of course it would be, with names like Vicky McClure and Stephen Dillane in it’s main cast.
It moves at a decent pace. The first episode is quite slow, but it sets the scene (I say slow, someone falls into an empty lift shaft before the credits run) and it isn’t so slow that you are tempted to turn it off. Things quickly get going, although we don’t actually see Point Blanc until episode four, which is later than I anticipated, but I was fine with it. One of the good points of the show is that it never feels gimmicky, and it manages to make even the slightly madder points somewhat realistic. The scenes with the real, adult agents have the sophistication of a BBC One drama, and the dialogue is actually really good.
Sometimes, it can be predictable, although I did enjoy the layering and hidden messages in the characters, even if I didn’t realise some of them until later on. The second-to-last episode finishes with a very predictable twist – even before it happened I knew it was coming – and, well, if you see it you’ll know what I mean when I say that it just simply wouldn’t have happened if they were actually MI6 agents. Streaming originals can have dodgy acting, however, even from the lesser-known cast aged around 20, it was brilliant. A review I read before watching mentioned that Alex doesn’t look vaguely like he’s 14, as he is in the books. Don’t let that put you off – his age is not specified here. I took the view that he looks like a more mature 16 year old. Trust me, I don’t seem to remember book Jack Starbright being a black, female, American graduate who had been a maid-style figure in Alex’s life – most of the problems which are being pointed out about this show are from people who are comparing it to the original books from twenty years ago. This is different.
Will there be a second series? Well, there are thirteen books of material to choose from, although it was left open at the end, presumably because they have no idea if it will succeed or bomb. Apart from the small flaws near the end, I don’t see why it would – it is a 5 star series for me. And unlike other producers, I have faith that Amazon would create a worthy continuation of this if they decide to. I would certainly watch more.