REVIEW: Artemis Fowl (2020)

Film Poster
Character Poster – Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Kenneth Branagh (Thor) — Written by Conor McPherson & Hamish McColl.

Following several years of development hell, a film adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s young adult fantasy novel Artemis Fowl was finally completed and released by a major film studio this year. Disney seemed like a good home for the film, and Kenneth Branagh seemed like a good fit as the director of the film since he had previously done a good job with fantasy films such as Thor and Cinderella. It was originally intended for a theatrical release in, first, 2019, and, later, 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced Disney to release the film on their new streaming service, Disney+. However, it almost feels like a straight-to-streaming release was the best thing that could’ve happened for the film since it has now been essentially swept under the rug without much fanfare.

Kenneth Branagh’s Artemis Fowl follows its titular character (played by Ferdia Shaw), a highly intelligent 12-year-old so-called ‘criminal mastermind.’ When his father (played by Colin Farrell), also named Artemis Fowl, goes missing while he is accused of theft, young Artemis is tasked with finding the so-called Aculos, a magical source of power, or risk losing his father for good. To bring his father home, he will have to encounter several magical creatures including fairies and a dwarfus giganticus (played by Josh Gad).

I can’t hide the fact that I don’t have a lot of good things to say about Kenneth Branagh’s latest film. But, to be fair, Artemis Fowl isn’t a total disappointment. Some of the costumes are nifty, and visually the film works well for a blockbuster. Haven City, the fairy world, looks splendid, and I sort of wish we had spent more time there. I liked some of the film’s ‘time freeze’ sequences, even though they don’t exactly look very original. But I can’t overlook the several and severe problems with the film. Artemis Fowl‘s story is not just rushed but also convoluted (its 95-minute runtime is jam-packed) and, sadly, uninteresting, while the performances also help to leave a very bad impression.

Colin Farrell is, to me, almost always one of the best things about a film. I enjoy his presence in films, and I looked forward to seeing him in this film. However, it frustrated me to see that he is barely in the film. It is a very small role. Of course, the cast list is still very strong, but even its veteran actors failed to make the film work. Josh Gad’s accent is distractingly gravelly, and the character he is playing looks like a mixture of Hagrid and Star-Lord. He feels like a serious character though, so Gad is totally miscast. He is sometimes meant to be menacing, but Gad is never able to sell that. His put-on accent is really grating to listen to. He’s also the narrator and his voice is so off-putting and frustrating that I almost turned off the film multiple times. The film would be much better without an unnecessary narrator, who sounds like a hippo with a throat infection (that’s how Gad’s character describes his voice). Judi Dench also has an odd, somewhat gravelly, accent here. Perhaps she, too, is miscast, but her performance is not as grating as Gad’s is. She does have one genuinely hilarious scene — arguably the film’s best — in which a pointy-eared Dench, dressed head-to-toe in green, in a slightly Irish and gravelly accent says: “Top of the morning.”

The titular character is played by newcomer Ferdia Shaw. I don’t like to criticize newcomers too harshly since I don’t want to discourage them, but his performance is not strong or charismatic enough to carry the film, which, of course, is a huge ask of any newcomer. However, make no mistake it is not because of his performance that the film doesn’t work. Lara McDonnell, who plays a fairy, is also a relatively new actor, but she might actually be the best thing about the film.

The film never won me over or held my interest, and its sequel baiting cliffhanger ending just made me roll my eyes. A part of me actually thinks that Disney tried to sweep this film under the rug on Disney+. If that is true, then they did it for a good reason. Because Artemis Fowl is not just a waste of talent but also of the popular source material. It is a huge missed opportunity and arguably the worst blockbuster film of the year.

2 out of 10

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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