DIRECTED BY: Kenneth Branagh
STARRING: Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Colin Farrell, Judi Dench, Hong Chau, Nikesh Patel, Joshua McGuire, Chi-Lin Nim, Adrian Scarborough, Vincenzo Nicoli, Conor MacNeill, Miranda Raison and Laurence Kinlan
Disney’s Artemis Fowl is the film adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s fantasy novel series of the same name, with the adapted screenplay written by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl, and the film directed by Kenneth Branagh. The film focuses Artemis Fowl II (or Jr.), the twelve-year-old son of the wealthy and reclusive connoisseur of collecting particular world-famous relics by stealing them, but for purposeful reasons as he knows their worth amongst the fairies and dwarves that exist in the world and passes on his knowledge of Irish fairy tales to his son. Soon enough, Artemis Fowl Sr. is kidnapped by a fairy gone rogue, with Jr. having to meet with the abductor’s ransom demand in order to save his father’s life: hand over the fairy-folk’s post precious item known as the Aculos, the key that gives the fairies control of their own domain and entrance into the human world. Meanwhile in Haven City, home to a secret civilisation of fairies, the LEPrecon (Lower Elements Police reconnaissance) forces are also searching for the missing artefact, leading to young fairy officer Holly Short to having to encounter a mission on the surface that eventually leads her to crossing paths with Artemis Fowl Jr.
This particular adaptation from Disney has taken a while to get to where we are today. First signs of Disney developing a film adaptation of Artemis Fowl were announced back in July 2013, though there would be no further development on that project until September 2015 when Kenneth Branagh would be attached to direct. Eventually the film would go into production in March 2018 once casting was done and while it was originally set for August 2019, it was pushed back till May 2020, which of course led it to being shelved again due the COVID-19 pandemic and thus today, Disney decided to unleash the film to audiences on their Disney+ streaming service.
So the question becomes, is the fan worth the wait for fans and newcomers? I can’t answer the fans part, but I can answer the newcomers part as this is my first introduction into the character and the world (though I’m aware of the story) and, for me, this film felt like a complete chaotic mess. With the film coming in with an hour and thirty-five minute runtime, it relies on a lot of heavy exposition in the opening ten minutes and from then on it delivers dialogue at a place like there’s no tomorrow and the audio is sped up to 1.5x with very little to no breathing room in between. Even one particular action sequence feels like it’s sped up in order to get us to the finish line quicker before we have time to start asking what the hell is actually going on. It doesn’t help that the screenplay feels pretty lifeless, leading to the ensemble to feeling just as lifeless as the dialogue they have to spout and the one I feel really sorry for is twelve-year-old newcomer Ferdia Shaw, the grandson of Robert Shaw (Quint from Jaws) and for this to be his first role is one I hope doesn’t harm him pursuing acting going forward, particularly with some of the negativity I’ve seen aimed at his direction already online.
Lara McDonnell at least provides some charm in moments playing Holly Short, Josh Gad just feels miscast as Mulch Diggums, particularly in the way that he’s delivering the narration in what can only be described as him doing his best Christian Bale’s Batman impression, and if you’re here for Colin Farrell, he’s only in it for about ten minutes maximum, if even that. Nonso Anozie hasn’t got much to do as Artemis’ bodyguard Dom Butler, and Tamara Smart, I’m not too sure if her character is meant to have a bigger role in the books, but here she’s practically non-existent or kept in the background through most of the film as Juliet Butler. The performance that will be most talked about, arguably, will be Judi Dench as LEP commanding officer Julius Root, and…well, that bloody accent was something else, almost like she’s doing her own Bale’s Batman impression, growling in an accents that attempts to be Irish but bounces between Scottish and Cornish and the films most memorable moment (for me anyways) has Root appearing on screen, ready for a climatic final act, without a hint of irony and a scowling head, saying ‘Top O’ the morning’ and I couldn’t help but moan and laugh at the same time.
The fact that this film is directed by Kenneth Branagh baffles me even more as previous work would suggest that, while you might love all of his films, there’s at least a cohesive structure to the narrative that is non-existent here. Also, even with the special effects thankfully being decent, I have no idea how the film cost $125m to make, unless there was reshoots, otherwise….how?
For Disney, they can thank their blessings this didn’t get a cinematic release as it would’ve been a box office disaster, but Artemis Fowl sets a bad precedent going forward for Disney+ if the studio doesn’t have faith in certain future cinematic projects and place it onto the streaming service instead.