“Artemis Fowl”- Movie Review

Anyone who grew up in the early 2000s knows the name Artemis Fowl. The fantasy book series, written by Irish author Eoin Colfer, was pretty popular among the elementary school crowd. And why wouldn’t it be? It was practically the James Bond of children’s fantasy stories, with elves, fairies, high-tech gadgets and the like. Even Hollywood recognized its potential. Not long after the first novel’s release in 2001, Miramax made plans to adapt the series into a film franchise. But alas, the project never came to full fruition. The film got trapped in development hell, and only now, nearly twenty years later, has it managed to find the light of day. 

Directed by Kenneth Branagh and released by Walt Disney Pictures, the film revolves around the adventures of Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw), a 12-year-old prodigy who encounters an underground fantasy world after his father, Artemis Fowl Sr. (Colin Farrell) is kidnapped. The kidnapper, a mysterious figure called Opal Koboi, demands the return of a magical item which the Fowl family supposedly stole. With little time to lose, Artemis joins forces with his loyal bodyguard (Nonso Anozie), an exiled dwarf (Josh Gad), and a fairy officer (Laura McDonnell) to find the magic macguffin and rescue his father. 

Artemis Fowl is an unfortunate case. Not only was it stuck in limbo for two decades, but just as it was about to snag a theatrical release, a global pandemic pushed it straight to Disney+. On top of that, the movie just isn’t good. It’s a shame because even though I personally never got into the books, I do think the concept has solid potential. This adaptation, however, never fully realizes this potential. What could have been a fun adventure flick winds up being a high-budget Disney Channel original movie. There’s nothing theatrical about it. Sure, it’s colorful and has decent CGI, but okay visuals can’t mask a story that has little to no structure and characters- with the exception of one- that are as interesting as a piece of cardboard. 

four people standing next to one amother
Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

Artemis Fowl himself is probably the weakest aspect of the film. The actor playing him, Ferdia Shaw, does not give a good performance. I get what he was going for- the more stone-cold, calculative and serious genius type. It just doesn’t land right, and Shaw’s delivery is consistently wooden. In his defense, the character isn’t written interesting at all. His most compelling trait is supposed to be his intelligence. The books describe Artemis Fowl as this superb criminal mastermind who can do all of these incredible things. Instead of conveying this through Artemis’s actions, the film just spoon-feeds this information to us through third-person narration. Gad’s character, Mulch Diggums, is the one telling us the story of Artemis Fowl, and his voiceover narration dominates much of the first act. He constantly talks about how special Artemis is, how unique Artemis is. But if you muted this narration and only went by what you see on screen, you’d see nothing exceptional about him.

It also doesn’t help that the film seems more interested in its supporting characters than its central protagonist. This goes back to the whole little-to-no-structure argument. The narrative cuts back and forth to other characters- Mulch Diggums and Holly Short (McDonnell)- and devotes solid chunks of time to their own storylines. It got to the point where whenever it cut back to the main plot, I had to remind myself, “Oh yeah, this is an Artemis Fowl movie”. Josh Gad is okay in his role, minus the awkwardly forced gravel tone of voice he uses throughout. Laura McDonnell is pretty good as officer Holly Short. Her performance as well as her character’s storyline are by far the most interesting and engaging part of the movie. 

The plot winds up being a whole lot of nothing. For one, 90 percent of the movie takes place in one location, the Fowl mansion, which doesn’t help the world-building all that much. I don’t know if the first novel took place in a single setting, so if the filmmakers were simply going by what happens in the text, they could have at least made the sequences inside the manor more interesting. These sequences are dull. Very dull. Even the climax is underwhelming, to the point where it doesn’t feel like a real climax. Everything is resolved a little too easily, and the film’s ending comes to a sudden halt rather than a solid conclusion. 

If you haven’t guessed by now, I didn’t like this movie very much. And something tells me that fans of the books won’t be too impressed by it either. Despite a few appealing visuals, Artemis Fowl is a messy, uninteresting misfire. It’s a film that doesn’t feel like a film. It feels like a product of a time that has long since past.

Cosmic Grade: 2/5 Stars

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