Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Ferdia Shaw, Judi Dench, Josh Gad
Streaming On: Disney+ Hotstar
Disney’s Artemis Fowl, from director Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Murder On The Orient Express), is based on author Eoin Colfer’s bestselling fantasy book series of the same name. The film adaptation has finally seen the light of day after being stuck in development hell for nearly 20 years. The rights have changed hands multiple times, and various actors and filmmakers like Robert DeNiro and Cameron Diaz have been attached to the project at one time or another. Initially set to have a theatrical release, it joins the ranks of movies Disney decided to release online in the wake of the pandemic. It’s probably the right move because Artemis Fowl is a hollow, reductive film with dull drama separating average set pieces which will likely leave fans of the book enraged.
Set in a world where fairies, dwarves and goblins live in a secret underground civilisation unknown to man, the movie follows 12-year-old Artemis Fowl (newcomer Ferdia Shaw), a child prodigy and all-round genius. After his father (an understandably bored Colin Farell) is kidnapped by a mystical villain, Artemis discovers that the world of fairies exists, and he must step in and rescue his dad. Artemis is a criminal mastermind. We know this because in one scene he literally says, ‘I’m Artemis Fowl and I’m a criminal mastermind’.
This is another of those adaptations where it’s evident that Branagh along with his writers Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl refuse to take the subject matter seriously and instead rely on packaging over substance. They seem to think that a fantasy adventure aimed at younger audiences needs to be simplistic and watered down without the burden of well-etched characters, genuine conflict or drama. So what we get is lifeless, limp writing with lazy dialogue. In a scene early on, to force a fairy police officer to be their man on the inside, the mysterious hooded villain says, ‘You spy… or you die’. Utter poetry.
The entire film is narrated through a lazy voiceover by Mulch Diggums, (Josh Gad) a dwarf who’s been captured by British authorities. For reasons never explained, he tells them about the existence of magical creatures and why we should all be wary of Artemis and his genius. We are repeatedly reminded that Artemis is a mastermind, but he does very little to actually suggest that.
Branagh’s adaptation diverts from the book in many ways, which is perfectly fine. But at the very least, you’d hope he would capture the book’s essence or the best parts of it. Colfer’s novels stood out not just for their fantastical world but also their fascinating central character. In the books, Artemis is a 12-year-old genius who uses his intellect for crime to restore his family’s wealth. He concocts nefarious schemes, kidnaps, blackmails, and constantly puts others in harm’s way as he meddles with magical forces, all for personal gain. He’s cold and calculating and by no means a hero.
Just imagine the possibilities of following the adventures of a young Sherlock Holmes, or perhaps more aptly a young Professor Moriarty, whilst also exploring the complexities of being burdened with that mind at the young age of 12. But Branagh reduces him to the kind of ‘kid genius’ you’d watch on a cartoon show.
Just imagine the possibilities of following the adventures of a young Sherlock Holmes, or perhaps more aptly a young Professor Moriarty, whilst also exploring the complexities of being burdened with that mind at the young age of 12. But Branagh is too afraid to present him as the antihero he is, reducing him to the kind of ‘kid genius’ you’d watch on a cartoon show.
It doesn’t help that as Artemis, Ferdia Shaw struggles to emote, ensuring the character is devoid of charisma and personality. Equally lifeless and uninteresting is Lara McDonell as officer Holly Short who goes from being kidnapped by Artemis to becoming his ally in minutes. Fortunately, as the gruff, irritable ‘I’m too old for this shit’ Commander Root, Judi Dench adds a much-needed dose of credibility to the proceedings. As does Josh Gad’s irreverent kleptomaniac dwarf Mulch Diggums who, outside of his overbearing narration, has the best lines and brings the rare moments of humour to an otherwise colourless film.
The one thing Artemis Fowl has going for it is that it isn’t entirely without imagination in how it brings this world to life. We see that in the underground fairy city and a fun sequence in which Holly Short tries to contain a rogue troll attacking a wedding in Italy.
Still, aside from the spectacular disappointment of it all, there is close to nothing that’s memorable about Artemis Fowl. Like they should have with the book, we can only hope that they leave this movie untouched, without feeling the need to spin it into yet another tired franchise.