Artemis Fowl review: Disappointment for the whole family
James R | On 11, Jun 2020
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Ferdia Shaw, Josh Gad, Judi Dench, Lara McDonnell, Nonso Anozie, Colin Farrell
Watch Artemis Fowl is online in the UK: Disney+ UK
The words “young adult” can turn off many a reader or viewer, but Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl novels are witty, knowing creations that fantasy fans of all ages will find entertaining. Disney’s Artemis Fowl, a film based on the first of the books, is the kind of misjudged, uneven blockbuster that people of all ages will find dreadful.
The film introduces us to Artemis, a 12-year-old genius and the latest in a long line of criminal masterminds. On the page, he’s a sarcastic, calculating, amusingly ruthless young boy with a self-taught knowledge of all things fairy. On the screen, for some reason, he’s a soft-hearted boy whose wealth of information is inherited from his dad via bedtime stories. When Artemis’ paths cross with said fairies – who have been living unseen inside the Earth for centuries – Artemis in the book is in firm control of everything and has a scheme in mind that involves kidnapping. Artemis in the film rummages through his dad’s office to decipher an old Irish blessing.
In short, this isn’t the Artemis Fowl fans will know and love. That, in itself, isn’t necessarily a problem, but the script – written by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl – fails to conjure up a fun alternative. Framing the film as an origin story of sorts, they fail to turn the criminal prodigy into a character you’d never actually want to see more of.
That’s not particularly the fault of Ferdia Shaw, whose performance as Fowl moves as required from innocent to precocious, or at least tries to – any attempt he makes to reconcile these elements of Arty are drowned out by a frenzied edit that chops and changes any sense of coherent emotional or narrative arc. Characters either behave inconsistently or simply disappearing for chunks of the plot. Lara McDonnell is well cast as Holly, the lead fairy trooper with whom Artemis goes toe-to-toe, but we don’t get a chance to notice; she’s equally adrift in a confused final product that hinges on the pair’s growing friendship but spends almost no time on them interacting at all.
Instead, countless minutes are given over to Josh Gad, who delivers an over-the-top performance as giant dwarf Mulch Diggums. His unnecessarily growling vocals are given the task of explaining everything via voiceover – a choice that never fails to distract in all the wrong ways. Even Game of Thrones’ Nonso Anozie is wasted as Artemis’ sidekick, Butler, and the less said about a grizzled Judi Dench emerging from a helicopter saying “Top o’ the morning” the better – when even that bizarre spectacle can’t save your film, you know you’re in trouble.
Kenneth Branagh’s direction finds room for some impressive world-building, and the visuals show the odd flourish of promise, but whether it’s due to reshoots or tinkering during the wait for a delayed release, the source material’s magic is woefully lost in translation. Shafting the original plot in favour of a dull find-the-magic-object quest – mostly, you suspect, so Colin Farrell can have more screentime as Artemis’ dashing father – and attempting to introduce the franchise’s later villain without any worrying about logic, the result is a mess that that will bore parents and young adults alike. Most tragic of all is the thought that it will deter people from seeking out Colfer’s writing entirely – a sure sign of a failed adaptation.
Artemis Fowl is available on Disney+ UK, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription or a £79.99 yearly subscription.