“Artemis Fowl” stars Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Josh Gad, and Judi Dench. Released on Disney+ on June 12, 2020, the film is about a boy genius who attempts to rescue his missing father.
The film is directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also directed films such as “Dead Again”, “Peter’s Friends”, “Thor”, and “All Is True”. It is based on the book series of the same name by Eoin Colfer. Last week, we looked at a film that involves a group of criminals performing a one-of-a-kind heist in a crime-free future. Now, we’re looking at a film about a young and intelligent criminal in a world filled with magical creatures. I didn’t realize that this month is “Criminal Appreciation Month”. This is another moment where Disney is attempting to adapt a different source material into a big-budget fantasy film rather than remaking one of their beloved animated classics, and based on the trailers I saw for it, this could be an interesting one. It was originally set for a late summer 2019 release before it was moved to this year…which would’ve worked out fine if it wasn’t for the stinking coronavirus. Since the pandemic forced the theaters to close down (apologies for reminding you that again), the folks at Disney decided that instead of delaying it to a later date, they will release it at home via Disney+, a similar tactic that “The Lovebirds” did with Netflix. It makes sense since “Mulan” and “Black Widow” aren’t exactly “direct-to-Disney+” material. I wasn’t exactly 100% familiar with the book series it’s based on, so as usual, I will be looking at this one as its own film in order to appeal to those who are also unfamiliar with the source material. As for the people who have read the books, there’s a good chance that this review may not be for them. With that said, let’s see if this latest family-friendly fantasy adventure is worth watching for free.
The film’s story centers on the title character (played by newcomer Ferdia Shaw), a young and intelligent prodigy who comes from a family of criminal masterminds who stores thousands of stolen priceless relics and knows the existence of magical creatures that secretly live among the humans. His father, Artemis Sr. (Farrell), has been captured by a mysterious hooded figure who seeks to acquire a powerful artifact known as the “Aculos”. With the help of his bodyguard Domovoi “Dom” Butler (Anozie), a fairy reconnaissance officer Holly Short (McDonnell), and Artemis Sr.’s former dwarf employer Mulch Diggums (Gad), Artemis will have to use his brains and his criminal skills in order to rescue his father. With a plot like that, it’s no wonder Disney wanted to make it into another franchise. The film is said to be adapting from the first two installments of the book series, Artemis Fowl and The Arctic Incident, while making some noticeable changes in order to meet its cinematic requirements. This strategy usually has a habit of making die-hard fans extremely unhappy, and based on my studies, it looks like “Artemis Fowl” marks the latest film adaptation to fall victim to that unfortunate problem. However, this flaw meant absolutely nothing to me since again, I haven’t read any of the books in the “Artemis Fowl” series, which should make it much more easier for me to talk about (I think). As far as storytelling goes, “Artemis Fowl” is another basic tale about a gifted outsider who discovers that he’s part of a long line of special people and must use his skills to continue its legacy, which is a helpful way to teach kids about appreciating their own differences. However, it was told in a way that’s so uninspiring and so underwhelming that it made my ask myself, “What the heck went wrong?”. To be fair, the film did have an interesting lore that it’s introducing, which was one of the very few good things that I found while watching it. The major problem with it was its failure to further explore that lore and have the entire plot take place in a single setting, which is Fowl Manor. It’s almost like the screenwriters (Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl) wrote this story expecting the fans to understand its lore almost immediately while attempting to create a simplistic fantasy adventure for families and newcomers. I hate to say that they absolutely failed at both attempts. They had an idea on what to do with this story, but the way they executed it was just as thin as a piece of paper, and its uneven pace (despite its 95-minute runtime) didn’t exactly make its frustrating narrative that much better either. The film’s characters were also pretty mediocre in terms of development. We were introduced to these characters and their personalities, but they lack any real reason why anyone should love these characters. For example, we have Artemis Fowl, the title character who is a boy genius, but he is also alienated by everybody else. He finds out that he and his father are part of a family of criminals, and he has to take advantage of this lineage to rescue his father…and that’s about it. That’s his character. There’s literally nothing else that makes him even more convincing other than the fact that he’s Mr. Smarty Pants. This is something that filmmakers should try to improve on the next time they attempt to adapt another book series into a potential film franchise…or adapt it into a television series, whichever works. They need to have a certain amount of quality that both honors the source material’s lore and convinces newcomers to either check out the source material for themselves or get hyped up for the next chapter. That’s what turned “Harry Potter” into a cultural phenomenon. Based on what I saw, it looks like they still haven’t found it yet. As for the positives, I thought the cast was fine in their respective roles despite their acting being a bit stale during a couple of scenes. Ferdia Shaw (who is the grandson of actor Robert Shaw) did a nice job in his acting debut as Artemis Fowl. It’s not a perfect performance from the young actor, but in my eyes, he did his best to make sure his first impression onscreen wasn’t as disastrous as the film itself. Josh Gad had a couple of amusing moments in his role as Mulch Diggums, but other than that, I would say that this is his weakest role in his promising career with Disney in terms of the humor. Oh, and Judi Dench is in this film as well in case you’re wondering. Her performance as Julius Root, the commanding officer in the Lower Elements Police department, wasn’t too bad, although I can’t seem to get over the fact that they made her sound like she’s got a frog in her throat. No offense to the great Judi Dench, but seriously, what is up with that? It’s like she came in with a sore throat and the director liked it so much he wanted her to sound like that for her character for the rest of the shoot. I also thought the visual effects and makeup design were quite decent in terms of the film’s world and the creatures themselves, even though there were a couple of scenes that made the CGI look a bit jarring, including the one that involves Mulch’s “ability”. Don’t ask.
Overall, Disney’s take on “Artemis Fowl” is best described as a “fowl” egg that’s left in the hot sun for too long. Aside from its okay cast and some decent visuals, the film fails to impress both the die-hard fans and the newcomers due to its thin plot, one-dimensional characters, uneven narrative, and its underwhelming sense of urgency. This is one of the films that made me question how it all went wrong. You got a popular studio and a promising cast that were hoping to make this into another franchise, and then boom! Something happened that forced the film to quickly fall apart. Whatever it was, I hope they do something quick to make up for this unfortunate turn of events. As someone who watches a lot of Disney, I would say that this is undoubtedly the biggest blunder that the studio has produced during its recent years. If you’re actually interested in watching it, it’s available to watch on Disney+, but I highly doubt that you’ll like it any more than I did.