Film Review: Artemis Fowl
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Streaming on Disney+ 6.12
There’s a bit in a Looney Tunes cartoon wherein Daffy Duck makes a movie, which he then shows to the studio executives. When the lights come up, one man remarks “That was great. Why don’t we remake it before we shelve it?” I couldn’t help but think of this as I watched the wild, crazy train wreck that is Disney’s Artemis Fowl.
Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) is a 12-year-old genius who lives at Fowl Manor with his widowed father, Artemis Sr (Colin Farrell), who has passed on his extensive knowledge of Irish fairy tales. When Dad goes missing from his boat and is accused of stealing several priceless artifacts found aboard the vessel, young Artie receives a call from the hooded figure who holds his father captive. This mysterious person gives the boy three days to recover “The Aculos,” which is apparently some sort of thing, which Artemis Sr. has stolen and hidden because of “reasons.” Meanwhile, deep underground in Haven City, we are introduced to the Lower Elements Police reconnaissance (LEPreon) and Officer Holly Short (Lara McDonnell), an 84-year-old elf who looks like a preteen girl and who will play a major role in whatever the hell it is that happens in this choppy, nonsensical mess.
I’ve been a fan of Kenneth Branagh for decades. When he’s at the top of his game, nobody does Shakespeare better, and I feel he proved his ability to do light, fun blockbusters with Thor and Cinderella. Artemis Fowl is a visually resplendent film that feels like it should be enjoyable, but the story connects together like bumper cars slamming into each other. I’ll be completely honest and say that I tried to read the book more than ten years ago and just couldn’t get past the first couple of chapters because I found it to be smug and in love with its own sense of cleverness. So I’m certainly not a purist on this one: If the changes had made for a good movie, I’d be giving it a good review.
But this film has all the marks of screenwriting by committee, and Disney was so concerned with softening the character of Artemis from the devious little criminal he was in the book that they’ve robbed him of any character at all. Moreover, the movie is so bogged down with bungled exposition that it takes forever before it remotely feels like he is supposed to be the protagonist of the story. As a result, Ferdia Shaw makes no impression at all, but it seems unfair to blame him for it. Meanwhile, Josh Gad is almost vaguely endearing as the burly and bearded wannabe dwarf, Mulch Diggums. Holly Short is likable enough, but I got the distinct impression that some crucial elements of her backstory were lost to that old Hollywood studio fallback when you have a turkey on your hands: If you can’t make it good, at least make sure it’s under two hours.
The Mouse House must have been relieved that they didn’t have to waste time and money on releasing this one in theaters, but it’s hardly going to join The Mandalorian or even The Rise of Skywalker as a big draw for the Disney+ streaming service. I’m starved for a blockbuster, and as a sucker for fantasy, I really wanted to like Artemis Fowl. But in terms of it having any kind of future as a franchise, the only thing it has going for it is that at least author Eoin Colfer hasn’t published any online essays recently. –Patrick Gibbs