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Review: Artemis Fowl (2020)

Artemis Fowl (2020)

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Premise: An adaptation of the young adult fantasy novel by Eoin Colfer. Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw), the gifted son of an antiquities collector, uncovers a magical world of fairies and dwarves. Artemis must rescue his father (Colin Farrell) from a mysterious villain.

What Works: Artemis Fowl is the latest attempt to turn a young adult fantasy novel into a film franchise and the one respect in which this material stands apart from the others is its title character. Harry Potter and Katnis Everdeen and Lyra Belacqua are generally good people with a populist sensibility. Artemis Fowl is not. He’s somewhat of an antihero like James Bond and Artemis cheats and manipulates people to get what he wants. That makes him a bit different from the more upstanding characters who usually lead a franchise like this.

What Doesn’t: The potential of Artemis Fowl is buried by a disastrous execution. This is one of the worst young adult film adaptations in some time, even worse than Beautiful Creatures, Eragon, or The Mortal Instruments. The root of the problem is the story which is a mess. The film begins by establishing Artemis Fowl and his relationship with his father. Artemis’ dad is kidnapped by a mysterious villain who wants an artifact from the family’s collection. This is a good enough opening; it gives the protagonist a goal and a motivation. The film quickly goes off the rails. Instead of racing to rescue his father, Artemis spends the movie doing everything except trying to get the artifact that the villain wants. He kidnaps a fairy and holds her hostage to provoke a confrontation with the rest of the magical world. What Artemis is trying to achieve is unclear and the middle of the film is a bunch of action set pieces that don’t make sense and have no purpose or relation to the central conflict. There is no escalation or tension and the resolution of the film is lazy, uninspired, and anticlimactic. We never really find out who the villain is or what he wants nor are we given a reason to care. The movie features narration throughout by a dwarf played by Josh Gad. The voiceover is obnoxious and unnecessary. Artemis Fowl’s visual style is generic at best. The costumes look stupid and the special effects are uneven. The characters and the performances range from mediocre to terrible. Most critical is Ferdia Shaw as Artemis. As an antihero he needs to project charm but Artemis just comes across as a spoiled child. Other characters are similarly unengaging. The villain is a nonentity who sneers like the heavy of a Saturday morning cartoon and Judi Dench is wasted in the role of a senior fairy.

DVD extras: Currently available on Disney+.

Bottom Line: Artemis Fowl is another terrible adaptation of a young adult fantasy novel. The book series is eight volumes but the film franchise is dead on arrival. It is a series of terrible filmmaking choices at virtually every level of the production.

Episode: 840 (February 21, 2021)