Kids! We humbly suggest there’s really only one Stormbreaker playground debate in town... Who would win a fight between Harry Potter and Alex Rider?
There’s a lot to consider: Rider has the looks, but Potter bests him on brains – well, at least when Hermione is around. Rider is quite an athlete (somersaults, high-wire dangles, car-surfing), but it’s hard to argue with the ever-present option to fly about on a broomstick.
Alex has the gadgets – courtesy of Stephen Fry’s Q-style toy seller (metal-melting zit cream, customised Nintendo DS, pellet-firing pen) – but Harry could just squawk out a spot of gibberish in his barely broken voice and turn everyone into tired little kittens or something.
At this point, Riderphiles have to play dirty – and raise the issue of acting aceness. Radcliffe puts his gawky little heart and soul into it, but often sounds like he’s reading aloud at assembly. Pettyfer’s poise is sturdier, but he’s too bland and posh to really convince as an emerging action-franchise hero. The effect is more like that Ben Fogle bloke from Countryfile doing an anti-terrorism challenge for charity.
Writing/directing? Horowitz is a torch under the covers type: a pulpy, Boy’s Own flipside to JK Rowling’s brightly-lit dark arts. He’s done a deft job of adapting the first of his six Rider books, refining a name here, clipping a detail there (cue howls from purists). Still, they could both use a few dialogue lessons (“He’s not a child – he’s a lethal weapon!” or “He’s about as charming as a... snake!”).
In transferring the novel’s zippy but menace-free action sequences, Geoffrey Sax keeps a steady eye on his attention-challenged audience: quad-bike stunts; bicycle chases; one-boy-army multiple slapdowns... The bit where Alex gallops through a London rush hour on a horse – with horsey girlfriend Sabina Pleasure jiggling in her jodhpurs – should rouse even the twitchiest texter.
Potterites can reel off a litany of classy Brit thesps, but Stormbreaker has a touch of overseas acting class to spice up the bloodless ambience of kids playing at adults. Rourke has masses of fun, lording it as the leonine, smoking-jacketed, toothpick-chewing, sleazoid superbaddy, while Silverstone, as Alex’s guardian, and Missi Pyle as Rourke’s teutonic, ice-maiden assistant, add a dash of sex.
Still, you can’t argue with Rowling’s surgical plotting, particularly in the face of Stormbreaker’s brain-hurty mush of mega-computers and über-viruses and ultra-secrets and code-whispering ciphers and disgruntled ex-employees and ‘berk’-saying henchmen.
Potter it is, then. But he’d be nothing without that invisibility cloak. Nothing.
Feisty but sensible. The kids will sit up straight, but may crave a hit of bigger, badder Bond over this parent-friendly scale model.