Artemis Fowl, a big budget adaptation of the popular young adult fantasy book series by Eoin Colfer, was originally scheduled to be released in August 2019. In the preceding May, Disney chose to delay it until May 2020. Once the pandemic hit, making a theatrical run that month impossible, they decided to push it back two more weeks and send it directly to their Disney+ streaming service instead. This kind of rough journey from production to release tends to be a bad sign of a movie’s quality. This is not an exception. Artemis Fowl is not any good.
It was clearly designed with the intention of creating a new family friendly fantasy franchise, ala Harry Potter. I have not read any of Colfer’s books, but I will assume they contain at least some of the excitement, charm and wonder fatally lacking from the movie version.
As I understand it, Artemis Fowl combines multiple books from the series, while changing some events. Whatever the reason is, its story is rushed and confusing, with a completely undeveloped villain and an inconsistent hero. Nearly every scene features a massive exposition dump, a shortcut the filmmakers use in an effort to make up for not spending the time to establish this world. It is constantly jumping from plot point to plot point, character to character, barely introducing something before moving on. It does not take long for this to become a very tedious viewing experience.
The hero is Artemis, a twelve-year-old boy who lives with his wealthy, and mysterious, father and their loyal butler. After his father is kidnapped, and accused of being a master thief by the media, Artemis discovers that fairies are real (along with dwarfs, goblins, trolls and other magical creatures) and are convinced his father stole the most powerful object from their world. Artemis sets out to uncover the truth and find his Dad.
None of this is revealed in a way that is interesting. Director Kenneth Branagh and his writers, Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl, show no patience right from the outset. We do not really get to know Artemis, his father, the fairies or much of anything before the plot kicks in. They speed through setup, using clunky narration (growled by Josh Gad) to fill in the many gaps. That makes things pretty hard to follow at times, in addition to making it impossible to get invested.
The personality shifts of the title character are emblematic of Artemis Fowl’s larger issues. At the start, he is a standard, brave YA fantasy kid, prepared to do what it takes to save his Dad. Then, in the middle portion, he is suddenly a calculating genius, willing to compromise his morals to get what he wants. It would be fine if we saw, or sensed, that change occurring; he does have believable motivation, after all. However, it just kind of happens. Like a lot of this underwritten movie, Artemis has no depth. Even if you understand what is going on, the why is much more challenging.
If I had to describe Artemis Fowl in two words, they would be “messy” and “joyless.” Nobody seems to be having fun with this. Not Branagh, not the cast (also including Colin Farrell and Judi Dench), not the visual effects team. It feels very much like a product. Okay, I will add a third word: “lazy.”
I feel bad for family audiences, that this is the best they can do for fresh content. I feel even worse for fans of the Artemis Fowl series, who were no doubt excited when they learned it was being turned into a major movie. They waited nineteen years from the publication of the first book, just to get something with no care put into its production. Maybe fans will get lucky and they will eventually try to reboot it, hopefully without coming off as a cynical attempt to grab the Harry Potter fanbase.
1 out of 5
Ferdia Shaw as Artemis Fowl
Lara McDonnell as Holly Short
Nonso Anozie as Domovoi Butler
Josh Gad as Mulch Diggums
Colin Farrell as Artemis Fowl Sr.
Judi Dench as Commander Root
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl