Artemis Fowl (2020)
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Written by: Conor McPherson, Hamish McColl,
Starring: Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, Simone Kirby, Joe O’Grady, Finian Duff Lennon, Grace Fincham, Colin Farrell
Watching Artemis Fowl is an exercise in self-flagellation. At almost no point during its 95 minute run time did the film produce a sense of coherence or entertainment. It accomplishes the almost impossible task of being both boring and exhausting at the same time.
Its first, most egregious sin comes with its protagonist. Artemis Fowl in the novels is a prodigious criminal mastermind, the latest in a long criminal dynasty. I haven’t read the books myself, but reading the character’s Wikipedia summary was already more riveting than the flat, unlikeable bore we are given in the movie. Rather than mastermind artful criminal plots, this Artemis (Ferdia Shaw) is more keen to sit at home and analyze old documents.
But when it comes to unlikeable characters, Artemis is hardly alone. Most intolerable is Mulch Diggums, played by Josh Gad. Mulch is easily the most irritating character in the film. His gravelly voice and attempts at humor prove to be more grating than endearing. As luck would have it, he also happens to narrate most of the film’s action.
That action, by the way, is astoundingly poor. There is an action sequence in the second act that is so poorly choreographed and incoherently edited that following it becomes a complete chore. The camera pans around Artemis and his bodyguard, Butler (Nonso Anozie) as they fend off an invading squadron of fairies, but never allows the audience to have a point of focus to follow. Instead, our eyes bounce around the flashy scenery until they start to glaze over.
If all else failed, we would at least have a plot to fall back on, yes? Sadly, we do not. All the characters are in pursuit of a mysterious object known as the Aculos, but we are deprived of what its importance actually means to the cast. Instead, we are left with endless bits of expository dialogue where character’s motivations are spelled out rather than shown, but never gives the audience a chance to connect with anyone. Here, characters act as conduits to provide information or act as “good guys” or “bad guys.” They feel less like characters and more like thinly written sketches of characters. The kinds of things you would toss out in a journal on your way to your first draft.
Most outrageously, Artemis Fowl is an adventure film where the protagonist never leaves his house. Rather than experiencing the globetrotting adventures of a 12 year-old criminal, we are subjected to the film’s inane plot. The final product winds up feeling like a bizarre, tonally incoherent mishmash of Home Alone and Carnival Row.
Fans of the novel will likely be outraged. Newcomers like myself will be befuddled. What we are left with is a film that so outrageously fails in its task to provide enjoyment that it is gobsmacking. While M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender may be the worst fantasy film released in the past ten years, Artemis Fowl is the first film in that decade to truly challenge it. If some intrepid soul wants to view them back-to-back to provide a more meaningful comparison, you’re a braver sort than I. For everyone else, simply searching through the Disney+ archives will provide more enjoyment than anything in Artemis Fowl.