Director Simon West has expressed the hope that in “Stratton” he has created a new action hero screen franchise to rival the Bond movies. Judging from this first episode, not a hope.
Stratton (Cooper) is an SBS (Special Boat Service) agent, whom we first meet on an assignment to blow up a facility in Iraq, which is supposedly manufacturing biochemical weapons. It’s a joint operation with the US Navy Seals, represented here by Marty (Tyler Hoechlin). As they find their way through an underwater tunnel the operation starts to go wrong, resulting eventually in a gun battle with unidentified assailants and the death of Marty. It’s not a bad action sequence but as one doesn’t yet know anything about Stratton at this stage, not very emotionally engaging. As we learn little about him later in the film, apart from seeing him do a lot of shooting and destroy a lot of vehicles in car chases, the film fails on that level. Oddly too, although an SBS agent (who are, we’re told, the British equivalent of the Navy Seals), he spends very little time in the water.
The story telling is totally muddled and unclear, though you do eventually gather that the Russian villain Barovski (Thomas Kretschmann) is out to unleash a WMD (weapon of mass destruction, in case you’ve forgotten) on London, giving West the opportunity to display all the famous landmarks for the American market – Trafalgar Square, Big Ben etc. They also include the iconic red bus, in this case a number 9, which is carrying the lethal device, and which strangely is stopped by neither passengers nor police, even though it has a big hole in the roof and a destination board which rather than saying “Not in Service” claims to be heading for Clapham Common (where, for the benefit of non Londoners, the number 9 never ventures.) Oh, these terrorists really should do their homework.
MI6 is also involved in the person of Connie Nielson, playing a sort of M figure – a role in which she is struggling with a strangled and mangled posh English accent reminiscent of British movie heroines of the 40s. Bring back Judi Dench, please. Both she and Derek Jacobi in an extraneous role as Stratton’s verbose foster father have long and clunky speeches revealing their back story. The dialogue otherwise seems to come from a handbook on how to write action hero/spy cliché dialogue. Apart from Cooper and Jacobi, another good actor wasting their time in this is Gemma Chan, who spends most of her time staring at a computer or cowering impotently in that number 9 bus.
In fairness I should perhaps mention that just for a bit of location variation the film also takes its hero on a little trip to Rome to shoot more people and destroy a few more cars but not to any great effect.
As a rival for Bond this film lacks elegance, panache, sophistication, a well told story and an engaging central character. No disrespect to Mr. Cooper though. He does his action stunts well but the writing and direction fail to give his character or indeed any of the others a chance in hell.