90s kid’s favourite teen spy Alex Rider is heading back to our screens in June following the 2006 movie Stormbreaker, thanks to Sony Pictures Television and Amazon Prime Video. Based on the characters in Anthony Horowitz’s best-selling series of novels, the new eight-part coming of age thriller series adapts the author’s second book, Point Blanc, in a surprisingly dark and grittier outing.
Following the suspicious death of his uncle, teenager Alex Rider (Otto Farrant) becomes embroiled in the dangerous and murky underworld of intelligence after reluctantly joining a secret government offshoot of MI6 called ‘The Department’. Assuming a new identity, Alex is sent undercover to infiltrate a mysterious school in the French Alps called Point Blanc, as part of an investigation into the mysterious connection between his uncle’s death and the assassination of two high-profile billionaires.
Twenty years on from the debut of Horowitz’s first Alex Rider novel and a lot of things have changed; gone are the wacky gadgets, replaced with a murkier and more grown up version of the spy thriller. Tonally it’s a bit jarring, this adaptation feels much more geared towards adults, primarily the Line of Duty and Spooks audience, than the original YA readers. Quickly shifting from the opening high school drama to the dangerous and morally compromised espionage underworld; there’s plenty of twists and turns, cliffhangers and a bit of light torture thrown in for good measure, which may just alienate younger members of the family.
Positioning the secretive subdivision of the MI6 as somewhat morally dubious definitely helps align the audience with Alex, heightening the ‘who can I trust?’ style narrative typical of the genre. The central murder and the unfolding mystery around the Point Blanc academy are just about intriguing enough to keep you onboard throughout the particularly slow paced establishing episodes, with the main plot only really kicking off once Alex arrives at the school in the fourth episode.
Featuring car and bike chases, shootouts and undercover surveillance, Alex Rider ticks off the big spy elements, with international locations such as New York, London and the French Alps to boot. There’s no denying the lavish production values and atmospheric set design, this is clearly a big budget production which definitely captures the espionage world, it’s just a shame it takes so long to do so.
Another big plus is the particularly impressive (and predominantly) British cast, boasting stars from Game of Thrones (Brenock O’Connor and Stephen Dillane), Line of Duty (Vicky McClure) and Broadchurch (Andrew Buchan). Stage and screen actor Otto Farrant shines in the lead role so far, brilliantly portraying a conflicted young man who doesn’t know who to trust. He’s great in the role and immerses himself in a lot of the stunts, proving a much better fit than Alex Pettyfer. Dillaine is also excellent as the morally dubious Alan Blunt, but McClure appears to be criminally underused as Alex’s handler so far – fingers crossed that changes.
This edgier Alex Rider series proves a big budget adaptation with plenty of potential to become the next compelling spy outing – I just hope the action would shift up a gear.
Alex Rider will launch on Prime Video in the UK on 4th June, with all 8 episodes available for UK Prime members to stream.