16th Jun2020

‘Artemis Fowl’ Review (Disney+)

by Chris Cummings

Stars: Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, Colin Farrell, Nonso Anozie, Judi Dench | Written by Conor McPherson, Hamish McColl | Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Based on the series of young-adult novels by Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl landed in the nest that is Disney Plus recently, and has garnered a very-mixed, often negative response from fans and critics alike in the small time it’s been available. I, then, tried to avoid these reviews so I could sit down and watch it with an open mind, as I try to do with every film I see.

With the horrendous virus causing the world to go into lockdown, we’ve had a few months of not-too-many new movies coming out, especially bigger blockbusters. Sure, we’ve seen some release digitally or on streaming platforms, but they’ve been few and far between. Artemis Fowl, then, is something that may appeal to those who want a big family feature to sink their teeth into at a time where the tree of new release entertainment is a bit on the bald side. With Kenneth Branagh (Thor) in the director’s seat, and a screenplay from Conor McPherson, this movie WAS supposed to hit cinemas, but Disney were pushed to change their plans, and so we have it available to us now on their streaming platform, a platform that is wonderful for any fans of Disney and the properties they own, it must be said.

I wasn’t in the least bit surprised that Artemis Fowl, a tale of a young criminal prodigy who enters adventurous situations alongside fairies and other mythical entities from the world of fantasy lore, would become a film, or a series of films. It’s like a gooseberry bush with plump zingy fruit ripe for the plucking, and finally someone came along to pluck. Phew… glad I caught those typos.

At a mere 97 minutes, though, this film is a mere blip on the radar of what the Colfer books were, giving a minimalistic portrayal of events that feels stripped bare. I haven’t read the books, but I still felt that this movie was missing a lot of intricacy and heart and lacking a depth to the world and the characters. It’s a tale of a son attempting to save his missing father (Artemis Fowl Sr. Played by Colin Farrell) and having to reassess his reluctance to fully believe in a world of fairies and dwarves and bears, oh my (no bears, actually… maybe that would have helped).

Now, I don’t want to fully delve into everything that happens here, because it’s a frantic film that still felt simplistically cold. It does a lot in a short time, but sadly nothing truly felt magical or energetic or intense. There’s a pretty impressive assembly of talented actors here, too, with Josh Gad (Little Monsters, Frozen) as Mulch Diggums, a jokey dwarf with an odd voice, Judi Dench (Judi Dench films) as fairy commander Root, Farrell as Artemis’ father, Artemis and Ferdia Shaw (this is his first film) as the title character himself. Artemis Fowl himself is bratty and sadly lacks a great deal of character development, making this supposed (according to what I’ve read of the books, and what the movie says in parts) smart and brave lad into a curiously boring one who does little to appeal to us. He’s the title character, the hero, the Harry Potter, the Frodo Baggins, the Percy bleedin’ Jackson, yet he comes across as a secondary (or even tertiary) character who just doesn’t feel well-rendered enough to build a whole film around. I don’t think this is Shaw’s fault, though. He was given very little string to crochet with here. You shouldn’t be irritated by a lead hero of a tale, yet I was.

Is everything about Artmis Fowl disappointing, then? Well, no, not quite. The world is handsome to look at, and there are some well done special effects along the way. The costume designs are fine too. I wasn’t sitting with a grumpy expression on my face throughout this, but I was struggling to enjoy most of it. There were elements to like about this, but for the mostpart it’s a confusing mess, a muddle of a film that doesn’t really seem to know what it wants to accomplish. It’s strange, too, that it feels a lot like this film belongs a few years back, when the Y/A fantasy genre was all over the place in film, from Percy Jackson to Harry Potter to Vampire Academy to Twilight to Beautiful Creatures. This feels like it belongs in the midst of those films, not doing a great deal, but simply existing to make a few bucks.

I was disappointed, it must be said, considering how aware I am that the book series is so beloved. The irritating narrations, the whimsical yet same-old character tropes, the bewilderingly poor character development and the lack of a character to truly root for make this a dud, but there’s problems much deeper than that. The villain of the tale offers little villainy to make us squirm or even vaguely interested, the hero isn’t really a hero, yet the writing doesn’t give us any reason to want to follow him either way, and the only standout performance is from Gad, although even I found him to be a bit much as the film went on.

In the right hands with care and thought and love put into it, Artemis Fowl could have been a delightful series of movies, I have no doubt. This, however, is a real slog of an experience, and offers nothing new or exciting to a genre that once flourished but now struggles to stay on its feet in the world of film. I expected more, even after hearing drumming echoes that it was poor, but on this occasion those naysayers are, in my view, correct.

* 1/5

Artemis Fowl is available on Disney+ now.


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