The film adaptation of Artemis Fowl has gone through a long, strange trip to release. First optioned as a film 20 years ago, it has kicked around different filmmakers until Kenneth Branagh (Thor) directed the adaptation and, after years of shifting release dates, was finally released exclusively on Disney+ in June 2020. Was it worth the wait? Nope. But it is some big budget FX heavy nonsense which is a plus as there has been a dearth of new big budget FX heavy nonsense in the last few months since most new home video releases have been smaller budget films. The plot makes very little sense as Artemis Fowl is jam packed with pointless exposition and malarkey. Artemis Fowl is a bad movie but not a complete waste with elaborate production design and a few fun moments.
One day Artemis Fowl Jr. (Ferdia Shaw) finds that his father, Artemis Fowl Sr. (Colin Farrell) has gone missing and was actually a world renowned criminal and burglar of priceless artifacts. Also dad would constantly fill his head with stories about fairies and goblins that turn out to be true. Deep underground near the Earth’s core live fairies, dwarves and goblins as the fairies are a police force called LEPrecon, who want back a priceless artifact called the Aculos. The 84 years young officer Holly (Lara McDonnell) is sent up to the surface by her chief, Root (Judi Dench), but Holly is soon captured by Artemis. The LEPrecon’s send the quirky digging specialist dwarf Diggums (Josh Gad) to retrieve her, but Artemis has fortified his palatial estate with the help of his assistant, Butler (Nonso Anozie) and Butler’s niece, Juliet (Tamara Smart). Large battles ensue involving trolls and time stopping while Fowl Sr. has been kidnapped by a monologue delivering megalomaniacal shadowy figure who keeps threatening nefarious things if their vaguely defined wants are not met.
The kidnapping of Fowl Sr. is sort of forgotten about halfway through, as basically all of the scenes of Farrell and the shadowy figure seem to be teasing future installments that will probably never come since Disney dumped the movie on their streaming service. There’s also flashbacks involving the dad talking to the kid about fairy tale rhymes that are muddled and confusing, much like the movie itself, but Farrell has heart. Shaw as the title character is just sort of pouty as his assistant Butler has more character with Anozie giving a small part some fun attitude. Smart as the niece is basically just there as the movie promptly discards her to focus more on the arrival of Holly. McDonnell puts some oomph into her delivery making the character lively. Dench is basically playing M again in a sci-fi/fantasy universe in a rather odd looking outfit as she has a truly terrible gravelly voice delivery that gets irritating quick. Gad’s similarly gravelly voice delivery is also jarring, with him at one point even saying that they both sound like growling hippopotamuses. Gad’s character is the comic relief that bounces between some funny bits and annoying.
The reason Branagh’s Thor works so well is that even with outlandish craziness, there is heartfelt character relationships and banter with only important exposition. Artemis Fowl is constantly undone by blah blah blah talking about backstory that has no bearing upon the plot. The central McGuffin that the characters are chasing the entire movie, the Aculos, is talked about very much but it devolves into noise. Frankly, when someone does something incredible with the Aculos in the finale it doesn’t make a lick of sense because it’s “powers” have been so ill-defined.
Also adding to the constant jabbering is that the film is narrated by Gad’s character with lots of black and white flash-forwards to him talking directly at the camera with seemingly omniscient powers of insight into the characters thoughts. While his gravelly voice over can be irritating there is the odd amusing line he drops, like when he says to the person interviewing him "Most humans are afraid of gluten, how do you think they'd handle goblins?”
The best way to experience Artemis Fowl is letting go of trying to make sense of the story and just roll with the FX lightshow action wizardry, which has been sorely lacking in new releases the past few months. The FX aren’t exactly realistic, in fact they look downright cartoony, but there is a lot of them. A standout is when Holly is shot up to the surface world to take out a rampaging troll that attacks a wedding in Italy which involves nifty time freezing visual FX. That same troll later pops up in the film’s action climax and using the troll again is diminishing returns as it leans very close to the kids taking on the troll in Harry Potter. The design of the underground fairy world is pretty cool, it looks more like sci-fi technology instead of magic, and the LEPrecon police force have nifty looking fairy style battle armor with sci-fi flourishes.
There was definitely money spent on Artemis Fowl but that money didn’t seem to go into developing a coherent script. But if one wants to see empty whiz-bang FX with some quips there is some satisfaction here. Just not solid entertainment.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell and Josh Gad.