'Artemis Fowl' Review
The “Artemis Fowl” book series began in 2001. That’s the same year the “Harry Potter” film series launched. “Potter” ushered-in a whole genre of page to screen YA franchises, and “Artemis” was calculated to be the next biggie. And author Eoin Colfer complied, keeping the books coming. Movie rights were captured early (by Miramax, and then absorbed by Disney), but the project remained in limbo for more than a decade.
When plans for an “Artemis Fowl” film really started to pick-up steam in 2017, producer Harvey Weinstein was removed. Then, just three months before its scheduled August 2019 release, Disney delayed it to the following May. AND THEN, amidst the early COVID confusion experienced by all the studios, the Mouse House chose to abandon any idea of an “Artemis” theatrical release and stick it on Disney+.
So, after nearly a 20-year struggle, “Artemis Fowl” is finally here — but the troubles are far from over.
Three of the film’s key figures have recently contributed proudly to the Disney library. In 2015, Director Kenneth Branagh provided a surprisingly sophisticated, delicate “Cinderella”. Colin Farrell gave an emotionally moving performance in 2013’s “Saving Mr. Banks”. And Josh Gad… well, if you don’t know what he’s done for Disney then you’ve clearly been living in a ice-covered castle, far-far away.
But, unfortunately, we don’t get skilled direction, a cornerstone performance or the fun, humor and charm that each of these three have delivered in the past. In fact, “Artemis Fowl” is lacking in all of those things — and more. Overall, the uninspired story is choppy, disjointed and genuinely puzzling.
12-year-old Artemis Fowl II is played by newcomer Ferdia Shaw. I wish Shaw all the luck in the world in the movie business, but this performance does not get his career off to a positive start. AF2 is the son of AF1 (played by Farrell), a mysterious businessman who suddenly goes missing. AF2’s job is to find AF1. The only way that can happen is if he can bring a magical device called the Aculos to where his father is located.
In the middle of this, the fairy, dwarf and troll worlds all get involved. Judi Dench (who may have the most screen time of anyone) plays the 800-year-old (yes, you read that right) head fairy of their military division. Gad’s character is a giant dwarf who constantly complains about… being a giant dwarf. And at random points, a gigantic troll unleashes havoc. These scenes brought me back to the worst parts of Disney’s 2017 “The BFG”.
AF2, along with his bodyguard, attempt to fight all the creatures from their mansion. They wear black suits, white shirts, black ties and black sunglasses. And they use green blasters. (I guess Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones weren’t available.)
Nearly every scene of “Artemis Fowl” takes place in and around the Fowl mansion. Films set primarily in one location must provide enough energy and varied movement to sustain interest. There’s definitely action, but those sequences are so messy and the purposes of them are so incoherent that you’re just holding on for dear life trying to make sense of it all.
At only 90-minutes (plus closing credits), “Artemis Fowl” is one of the shorter YA action/adventure adaptations in recent years. I can’t imagine it was always intended to be this way, as the finished product feels like it’s missing scenes and subplots. And it seems as if Gad’s voiceover narration may have been a late addition.
Actress Hong Chau is left off the closing credits. She was featured in the film’s first teaser trailer (released at the end of 2018) but that sequence didn’t make it into the final cut. So she caught a break. It won’t be quite as easy for everyone else involved with “Artemus Fowl” to let this one roll off their backs.