REVIEW: “Artemis Fowl” (2020)

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Full disclosure, I had never heard of “Artemis Fowl” prior to its feature film announcement. I knew nothing of Irish author Eoin Colfer’s popular series of children’s novels that featured a total of eight books released from 2001 to 2012. So I can honestly say I came into Disney’s $125 million adaptation with fresh eyes and bearing no allegiance to the source material. I actually prefer seeing movies that way.

The first plans to turn “Artemis Fowl” into a movie began brewing back in 2001. For ten years it languished in development hell until resurfacing in 2011 with Saoirse Ronan attached. Disney grabbed the rights in 2013, hired Kenneth Branagh to direct in 2015, booted Harvey Weinstein in 2017, and set the film for a 2019 release. It was delayed until May 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of its theatrical release. Instead it was released last Friday on Disney’s streaming platform. After seeing it, that’s probably where it belongs.

“Artemis Fowl” is essentially a fruitless franchise launch for a series I doubt we will ever see again. Disney clearly have aspirations, the blatant sequel setup ending proves that. But I can’t imagine this film rousing a passionate enough fanbase for there to actually be more installments. From the very start it stumbles out of the gate, never gaining its footing and ultimately failing to capture the wonder of its magical fantasy setting.

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Photo Courtesy of Disney

Nestled on the scenic coast of Ireland is the remote Fowl Manor, home to wealthy antiquities collector Artemis Fowl, Sr. (Colin Farrell). Now from what I read this widowed father is supposed to be a “criminal mastermind” but the film does a terrible job of convincing us. I’m still not sure what he did to earn himself such a lofty underworld title. Nonetheless, he lives in the mansion with his only son Artemis II (Ferdia Shaw), a 12-year-old child prodigy whose lone desire is to be with his often absent father.

While on one of his business trips Artemis Sr. goes missing at sea amid news media reports that he was involved in the theft of numerous priceless artifacts. Artemis Jr. receives a call from a shadowy cloaked figure who has kidnapped the senior Fowl and threatens dastardly harm if the young boy doesn’t retrieve something called the Aculos which his father had stolen. Leaning on his dad’s fantastical teachings on the magical world of fairies, trolls, sprites and goblins, Artemis Jr. sets out to find the Aculos and rescue his pop.

Another story thread is set in the subterranean world of Haven City. It’s a high-tech civilization ran by fairies, most notably a cranky, gravelly-voiced Judi Dench who is more convincing as a three pack-a-day smoker than a hard-as-nails fairy police commander. Turns out the Aculos was stolen from them and they want it back. Unseasoned officer Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) is sent on a mission to retrieve it, her mission crosses over with Artemis Jr.’s, and so on. Other not-so-entertaining characters include Josh Gad as an oversized dwarf and Nonso Anozie as the Fowl family’s butler (but don’t you dare call him “butler”). The rest of the cast have such little resonance you’ll barely notice them.

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Photo Courtesy of Disney

While Branagh’s direction won’t win any awards, it’s the screenplay (from Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl) that really drags this thing down. Aside from the blandest storytelling and the most cookie-cutter characters, the dialogue is mind-numbing. Not in the sense of terrible lines (although we get plenty of those), but in the relentless voice-overs, narration, and exposition. Practically everyone in this movie speaks in stilted overly-explanatory language and nearly every line is treated as a critical information dump. At times it feels more like a college lecture than a movie script as things are spelled out to the most minute detail.

Case in point, we get exchanges like this:

What is that?”

A creature that consumes humans in 2.97 seconds and fairies in less than 1.”

Mercifully that is one of the shortest examples I could find but it makes the point. “Artemis Fowl” doesn’t give its audience any credit for being able to figure things out nor does it leave anything to the imagination.

Aside from that we get an incredibly cold and dry lead performance from Shaw. I don’t want to drum on a young actor, but the lack of charisma and charm he brings to his character makes him hard to digest as a serious protagonist. Add to that an astonishingly shallow villain so thinly-sketched that we basically forget about her for most of the movie. Her origins, her motivations, her end goal – who knows and frankly who cares.

Now it’s 100% possible young children may love “Artemis Fowl”. In fact I’m almost certain some will. So if you have kiddos this is a pretty harmless time-passer especially as part of your Disney+ subscription. But I can’t review the film through their eyes, only mine. And it’s hard to give this movie a pass when so many others have appealed to children while being enjoyable and competently made.

VERDICT – 1.5 STARS

1-5-stars

18 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Artemis Fowl” (2020)

  1. Yeah, I read a lot of reviews about the film and man, the critics are tearing it to shreds. Even in Letterboxd, they’re tearing it to pieces. I read the premise and ugh…

    Josh Gad is largely a miss with me as he tends to overact in his films and I always groan whenever he appears. He’s one reason why I have no interest in seeing this.

    I think Disney must be relieved that the film didn’t make it to theaters otherwise it would’ve lost more money than they could’ve lost with its theatrical release.

    • I gotta side with most critics on this one. It’s pretty bad. Not hard to digest but flawed in so many regards. You mention Gad and overacting. He does that very thing here.

  2. As somebody who read the books (or, at least, a couple of them) when I was younger, the trailer for this adaptation genuinely angered me. In the source material, Artemis was a genuinely evil person who kidnapped Holly, held her for ransom, and (from what I can remember) was generally an asshole to everybody around him. To make the main character of a children’s novel that unlikable was a very ballsy move for Eoin Colfer, so of course Disney is going to completely rip that away for the sake of being as safe and pablum as possible.

    Personally, I’m betting that the company was so sick of the film remaining in production hell for as long as it did (nearly two decades, in fact) that they completely rushed it, just so it could finally be done already. That would certainly explain why it was just dumped on Disney+ amidst COVID-19, not delayed for a bit like “Mulan”.

    • I had heard he and his father were “criminal masterminds” but you do t get any of that here. They are hard to by into. And I had heard fans of the books were pretty put out with this thing.

  3. My son wants to watch it but I’m going in with the lowest possible expectations. I never read the books either, though I was always under the impression from hearing people talk about them that Artemis Fowl was a villain. Apparently not.

    • I think he was, at least for a time. Not here, even though he calls himself a “criminal mastermind”. Yes right. Anyway, it’s not a hard movie to SoT through. Just REALLY flawed.

    • In the source material, he wasn’t just a villain, but arguably the most cold, cruel, and just plain evil children’s book protagonist ever written. Admittedly, I could be wrong about that last bit, but still.

  4. Aghh, poor Judi Dench. She’s having a tough go of it right now, between this and Cats. I wasn’t going to see this regardless. It never looked anything more than a kid-friendly adventure at best with not much to appeal to adults. Sometimes movies like that I do go for — The Lego Movie 2 I definitely felt like I had aged out of but I still had a very good time watching it.

    • I know what you mean. Often these movies can still be enjoyable. I found this one to a fast and easy watch but so full of flaws and bad storytelling. Definitely a misfire.

  5. Strangely enough, and it is strange I assure you, I have read all bloody 11 or so of the Artemis Fowl novels. The reviews that I’ve read make me think the makers of this movie haven’t.

    • Ha! It really does make you wonder. But even aside from that, some of the writing is just terrible aside from being a far cry from the source material. Constantly explaining every single thought, motivation, and action. Leaving nothing for us to figure out on our own.

  6. Pingback: 13+ Artemis Fowl Reviews – Strong Disney+ Stench – Movies, Movies, Movies

  7. Pingback: REVIEW: “Artemis Fowl” (2020) — Keith & the Movies | Thriller/Suspense Film and Writing Festival

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