2020, PG, 93 mins.
Colin Farrell as Artemis Fowl I / Ferdia Shaw as Artemis Fowl II / Lara McDonnell as Captain Holly Short / Judi Dench as Commander Root / Josh Gad as Mulch Diggums / Nonso Anozie as Butler / Tamara Smart as Juliet Butler / Miranda Raison as Angeline Fowl /
Directed by Kenneth Branagh / Written by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl, based on the novel by Eoin Colfer
I knew that I was
in serious trouble very early on in my streaming viewing of the new Disney
produced sci-fi adventure film ARTEMIS FOWL.
Within the first few minutes of this adaptation of the young adult novel series by Eoin Colfer the titular character's name is mentioned/referenced, like, a dozen times. We get it. Seriously. This film is called ARTEMIS FOWL, it's about a young criminal mastermind named Artemis Fowl, and is the single most Artemis Fowled film in the history of Artemis Fowl.
Obvious sarcasm aside, ARTEMIS - ahem! - FOWL is one of the most confusingly and awkwardly rushed would-be franchise starters that I've seen recently. It's the kind of film that feels like it's trying to win a frenetic race to its end credit finish line to see how quickly it can dispense two novels worth of dense plot into one barely over ninety minute running time. Paradoxically, ARTEMIS FOWL is unhealthily crammed with so many ideas, themes, characters, locations, and set pieces while simultaneously coming off as empty minded and hollow. This is as good looking of a bland movie as there has been this year, and one that's also a desperately obvious HARRY POTTER clone inexplicably cross morphed with MEN IN BLACK.
bewildering is that ARTEMIS FOWL was intended to be launched as a
cinematic universe way, way back in 2001, and then floundered in
development hell until finally be produced and set for initial release
last year, during which time Disney probably smelled a qualitative and box
office dude and delayed it to this summer...which further led to it being
unceremoniously dumped to their Disney+ streaming service because of our
current pandemic. Regardless,
ARTEMIS FOWL is an equal opportunity let down machine: it'll annoy the
source material's fans while utterly confusing lay filmgoers.
The premise here
couldn't be anymore simple, really: A 12-year-old Irish genius/prodigy
tries to save his kidnapped father while discovering an
underground fantasy land of fairies, dwarves, trolls and other mystical
creatures. Seems cool enough.
But the exposition dumping that occurs here within the film's
opening few minutes is overwhelming to the point of making audience
members feel like they should be taking notes to make sense of everything.
That, and there appears to be a Disney-fied softening of the edges
of the lead character. In the
books - from what I've researched - the young Artemis Fowl is presented as
an anti-hero criminal mastermind, but here he's more of a reluctant
He's played in the film by Ferdia Shaw (grandson to the legendary
Robert Shaw), and as the story opens we learn - via an oddly constructed
series of flashbacks, flash-forwards and voiceover narration - that he's
one of the smartest kids on the planet, raised by his father Artemis Sr.
(the criminally misused Colin Farrell), who's a rich antiques dealer
Well, dear old
papa Artemis finds himself kidnapped by the vile Opal (Hong Chau), who's a
twisted pixie that visually looks like a hooded figure with green glow
emanating from the face (it's as pedestrian and lackluster of a villain
design as I've seen).
Anyhoo', Opal is wanting the Aculos (there's always a magical
MacGuffin thingy that the villain wants in these films), which is also
wanted by Commander Root (not to be confused with Groot, played by Judi Dench), an old battle hardened fairy that's
so battle hardened that she sports a raspy voice that gives Christian Bale's Batman
run for his money. She leads
a magical kingdom hidden in the center of the Earth, and sends in a young
fairy named Holly (Lara McDonnell) to help locate the device.
Little do they know that Artemis Jr. and his faithful
butler...named Butler (Nonzo Anozie)...are trying to head off
Groot's...I mean Root's...team, and even manages to
fairy-nap Holly in the process. Root then dispatches an army of fairies on Fowl Manor,
leaving Artemis and his allies going on the defensive while trying to get Artemis
Sr. back safe and sound.
Let's get this
out of the way right now: As
alluded to earlier, the world building in ARTEMIS FOWL is pathetically lousy.
We have a very poorly defined young hero without much in the way of
personality or charm, not to mention that the main baddie here is even
worse off as a well thought out antagonist and scary presence.
Trying to stuff the first two ARTEMIS FOWL novels into one
inexcusably short film does it no favors whatsoever either, and right from
the get-go we get one character trying to explain to us - literally by looking at us and into the camera - who Artemis Fowl is, where he came
from, the magical world hidden from the normal world, and so on and so on.
This is all done via a lazy and poorly executed framing device with another character, the very fantasy sounding named Mulch Diggums
(Josh Gad, looking like he's trying to finish first in a Hagrid cosplay
contest), a dwarf with a growth issue (he's tall) that's arrested and
detained by British Intelligence. While
interrogated, Mulch dishes on the whole Fowl universe with a voice that,
like Dench's fairy warrior, is all monosyllabic, gravel mouthed nonsense.
And yes, it becomes a grating endurance test to sit through and
listen to within the film's opening ten minutes.
Mulch has one defining characteristic: he can open his mouth up
unfathomably large to eat or dig through anything, leading to some
nightmarishly awful CG sequences.
Back to the world
building. If you've never
read an ARTEMIS FOWL book then you will be, no doubt, cast away hopelessly
adrift by this film adaptation and left mightily struggling to piece
everything together into some semblance of a meaningful whole.
When I wasn't confused by the story and myriad of characters and
subplots, it became abundantly clear that there's very little separating
this HARRY POTTER clone from the countless others over the years,
ranging from the mediocre PERCY
JACKSON to ERAGON to THE
MORTAL INSTRUMENTS, to name a few.
I've been hard on the HARRY POTTER films over the years, but I will
concede that that franchise felt grand and ambitious minded with its
creative aspirations. ARTEMIS FOWL is simply plagued with sloppy copycat syndrome.
The already bogged down and confounding plot builds towards a
climax and ending that tries to conclude with a cliff-hanger, I guess, and
lead to more adventures to come. The
sequel teasing/baiting of this lackluster introductory installment is
pretty eye rolling. Like so
many other failed fantasy/sci-fi films these days, ARTEMIS FOWL can't be
bothered to make a good first film with a definitive beginning, middle and
end because it just spins its wheels trying to set up future follow-up
I feel bad for young Shaw.
Headlining tentpole franchises like this can't be easy for a lad. I normally
don't feel comfortable coming down on child actors, but he's not
particularly inspired as young Artemis here, nor does he have much in the
way of spunk to make this character a figure of rousing, rooting interest.
I don't think that's his fault, though.
I think the dullness of the Fowl character and the ill defined
world that surrounds him is the fault of screenwriters Conor McPherson and
Hamish McColl, not to mention that this film was inexplicably directed
without much vision and cohesion by the great Kenneth Branagh.
Looking at the final product, the British filmmaker's usually
assured fingerprints are no where to be found here, leaving a picture that
feels like a journeyman, work-for-hire gig that could have been helmed by
anyone looking for a quick pay check. Branagh, to be fair,
has successfully dabbled into glossy, big budget fantasy directorial
waters recently, helming both CINDERELLA
(one of the few tolerable live action remakes of a Disney animated
classic) and THOR (one of the most
underrated of all the MCU films), and he thankfully manages to make
ARTEMIS FOWL look good on a level of production/costume design and art
direction. He also envisions
a few nifty action sequences, like two featuring a time warping weapon
being used by the heroes on unsuspecting enemies.