Artemis Fowl (2020)
Remember the name.
Hollywood’s had a foul time adapting Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer’s popular YA book series of the same name. Stuck in development hell for almost two decades, the sci-fi fantasy adventure was eventually snapped up by Disney, who planned to release the film in the Summer of 2019. Since then, however, it’s moved dates from its theatrical run in May 2020 to a small screen debut in June, being ultimately dumped on the Disney+ streaming service due to the current coronavirus pandemic. But I guess the warning signs were always there because, you guessed it, Artemis Fowl is an absolute clunker. Not only is it a generic Harry Potter/ Spiderwick Chronicles wannabe that reeks of studio interference, but filmmakers have also somehow managed to botch the entire story, the whole thing coming off as a half-baked pilot for a television series.
You see, what differentiated Colfer’s novels from the other kid-friendly fantasy stuff was the fact that the young Artemis was initially something of an antagonist who, during the course of his adventures, learned to better himself through his interactions with fairy folk — yep, they’re not mythical here. In the film, though, Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) isn’t a bad guy, he’s just a child genius, or so we’re told. He lives in Fowl Manor in Ireland with his affluent father Artemis Fowl Sr. (Colin Farrell, who apparently shot all his scenes in a day), and surfs along the beaches around his island home, coz that’s what Irish folk do, right? And that’s basically all that we learn about either of these two characters.
When Artemis Sr. goes missing, and is accused of stealing many priceless artifacts, Artemis Jr. receives a call from a hooded pixie known as Opal Koboi (an uncredited Hong Chau), who tells him that she’s holding his father captive. She gives him three days to find an acorn-shaped McGuffin known as the Aculos in exchange for his father’s safe return. That’s when his butler, Domovoi ‘Dom’ Butler (Nonso Anozie) (but don’t call him Butler even though it’s his last name) shows him a hidden library where generations of Fowls have been cataloging proof that fabled creatures exist, i.e., trolls, goblins, dwarfs, you name it. As Artemis and Dom search for the relic, a host of magical monsters, who live in the underground Haven City, get caught up in the kerfuffle, including a Christmas elf, I mean a military fairy named Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) who works for the Lower Elements Police reconnaissance (known as LEPrecon) — a bunch of sprites that march around in military-type emerald green outfits.
Co-written by Conor McPherson, The Eclipse (2009), and Hamish McColl, Johnny English Reborn (2011), Artemis Fowl is a soulless mess. The film takes various liberties with the source material and jumps between characters and plot points with very little sense of rhythm or reason. Despite an über-expository opening act, nothing is ever really explained. What does the enchanted acorn do? Why does the faceless villain want it so badly? Why are there so many magical creatures in Ireland? What happened to the third act? The list goes on. Also, for reasons we’ll never know, the whole film is narrated by Josh Gad’s Mulch Diggums, a giant dwarf who looks like a poor man’s Hagrid, and who’s magic power is to dig holes in the ground by eating the dirt then shooting it out of his ass!
I get a sense that there was a better film being made at one stage, but director Kenneth Branagh, Murder on the Orient Express (2017) — an accomplished filmmaker with a proven record — lost control somewhere along the way. Branagh, by all means, should know full-well how to make a successful YA movie, seeing as he also played Gilderoy Lockhart in 2002’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, yet we don’t see any of his talent or flair on the screen here. If you remember the very first trailer for Artemis Fowl, the most memorable moment, which featured a floating woman in white, isn’t even in the final cut, suggesting that the movie has been mixed and meddled with.
What’s left is a muddled, incomprehensible shambles of a film with hardly any action, drama, or excitement. Artemis essentially doesn’t leave his mansion for the entire run time, and we get maybe three action sequences at best. There’s one with a giant troll at a wedding in Italy, which is awful, a choppy encounter with the same troll in Artie’s house, and a two-second battle outside of Fowl Manor. For the most part, though, the visuals and beasties aren’t bad, chiefly the ‘Time-Stop’ VFX and some of the convincing goblin makeup — there’s a solid bit in a prison where Gad clashes with an angry fire breathing goblin played by Adrian Scarborough, Gosford Park (2001).
Look, I’d hate to slag on a child actor but Ferdia Shaw is pretty terrible as the titular Fowl, the newcomer showing very little in the way of emotion and range — I couldn’t buy him for a second as a criminal mastermind, and found his line delivery to be quite sterile as if he were reading from a sheet of paper. It’s only Lara McDonnell who stands out as Holly Short, a 84-year old elf that gets caught by Artemis and winds up teaming up with him to save his dad. Judi Dench, Shakespeare in Love (1998), is totally miscast as the grizzled Commander Root, leader of LEPrecon (between this and last year’s Cats, I think she needs to get herself a new agent) — and oh, whoever thought it was a good idea to have her say ‘top o’ the morning’ after exiting a spaceship should be fired! As head-scratching as Dench’s casting is, however, it’s Joshua McGuire, About Time (2013), who plays the most confusing character in the film, a power-hungry commander who works with the baddie for some unknown reason.
Representation is also pretty bad, seeing as the film’s three people of color are given pretty thankless roles. Nonso Anozie, Cinderella (2015), who fares best, plays the part of Artemis’ servant/ bodyguard, Dom; Tamara Smart, Are You Afraid of the Dark? (2019), does nothing as Dom’s niece Juliet except make Artemis a sandwich, while British-Indian actor Nikesh Patel, Halal Daddy (2017), plays a centaur (half-horse half-man) named Foaly, who gallops around aimlessly as a techy working for LEPrecon.
All up, we’re left with a movie that feels both plotless and incomplete. Artemis Fowl won’t satisfy fans of the book series on which it’s based, won’t entertain those who aren’t familiar with Colfer’s writing, and certainly won’t resonate with anyone in-between. It concludes with a sequel hook, where Artemis and Dom prepare to go on more adventures dressed like they’re the new Men in Black, and we all know how that one turned out. For four-leaf clover’s sake, they should just change the name to Artemis Foul. There’s no pot of gold waiting at the end of this one, folks!
2 / 5 – Average
Reviewed by Mr. Movie