Artemis Fowl and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Directed by Kenneth Branagh
I don’t think I’ve seen a GOOD new movie since the theaters closed up which is probably no coincidence as any studio who thinks their film will earn MONEY will probably want to wait until theaters are open again to take their chances on a strong weekend box office. It certainly hasn’t improved my general outlook in this very challenging time, but Disney has a chance to lift the spirits of the world by giving us a fantastic adventure film that the whole family can enjoy! Is this the YA cash cow that Disney’s been looking for!? Let’s find out!!
Artemis Fowl Jr (Ferdia Shaw) is the son of famed… artifact collector or something, Artemis Fowl Sr (Clin Farrell); both of whom live a happy little life in a giant coastal mansion with their not-butler Domovi Butler (Nonso Anozie). The only problem is that dear old dad has a habit of jetting off to another adventure in artifact “collecting” which leaves little Artite with little more to do than win dozens of awards at school and be a pompous jerk about it because on top of being super-rich he’s also a super-genius with a bad attitude. Everything changes however when one of his father’s trips ends with his yacht sinking in the ocean and somehow it also comes out that he’s actually a master thief. In reality, he’s been captured by an EVIL fairy and tells little Artie to give them the MAGICAL MACGUFFIN OF ULTIMATE DESTINY, or else his dad is going to die. Oh yeah, fairies and other magical stuff are in this movie which comes in about as abruptly as that sentence did and little Artie gets over the shocking revelation just as quickly. It turns out the MAGICAL MACGUFFIN OF ULTIMATE DESTINY is some artifact from the land of the fairies which is located underground (glad we never ran into any of THOSE cities amongst all the fracking, am I right?) and Magic Cop Julius Root (Judi Dench) is adamant about finding it. One of her subordinates Officer Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) has a personal stake in finding this artifact so she goes rogue and gets… let’s say ENTANGLED with Little Artie’s situation and through further complications, the ENTIRE Magic Army is on Artie Jr’s doorstop and are looking to drag him out of there with the help of a giant dwarf named Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) who they need for… reasons I suppose. Using only his wits, the help of his non-butler, and even the help of his non-butler’s niece who is ALSO a super genius and kung-fu expert, he must find a way to locate the artifact, get the Magic po-po off his lawn, and try to wrangle an entire novel’s worth of world-building and character development into less than ninety minutes of screen time. Can Artie Jr outsmart the Magic Cops with this heightened intellect and penchant for slick suits? What is the mysterious evil fairy planning, and what will happen if the MAGICAL MACGUFFIN OF ULTIMATE DESTINY were to fall into their hands? Is this grab bag of every other fantasy movie even CLOSE to the sum of its blatantly lifted parts!?
I’ve made a terrible mistake. Seriously, I really don’t want to be in THIS position at THIS specific time, but I guess I have no one but myself to blame! I could have watched Da 5 Bloods first this weekend and just be done with it, but nope! I went ahead and saw THIS terrible film and now I have to do like four different things I really don’t want to. I don’t want to dunk on yet another kids film, I don’t want to talk about an adaptation where I know nothing about the source material so I can’t tell you how well it holds up, I don’t want to complain that a movie I saw on my TV looks like a TV movie at best, and most of all I don’t want to compare this Harry Potter which is the only real comparison worth making and the absolute worst time to do so. From everything I’ve found, the guy who wrote the book seems like a really great dude; a former teacher who wrote a bunch of children’s books about Irish Folklore and HASN’T devolved into spreading twisted anti-trans bigotry on Social Media! When it comes down to it though, this movie is absolutely dreadful. I have no idea what could have happened that derailed this production so badly, but this is up there with that Nutcracker movie as far as completely baffling Disney blunders and the best thing that could have happened to this movie is getting thrown onto a streaming service to be swiftly forgotten.
There is almost NOTHING about this movie that is done correctly or done with any degree of competence. The actors make REALLY bizarre choices here (or were directed as such) with legendary actor Judie Dench and notable actor Josh Gad doing Batman voices for NO discernable reason. Throughout the whole movie, there are just growling their dialogue in the most distracting manner possible! Thankfully no one else is putting on a weird affectation like that, but the dialogue isn’t helping these young actors who just can’t carry it with any weight or conviction. Ferdia Shaw in particular has A LOT working against him as he’s essentially a boy genius who has no time for the common folk which is basically the only character trait he’s given and it makes him utterly unlikeable throughout. On top of that, he’s funneled through an obnoxiously tight narrative where all the room to breathe and build character moments is squished out to keep this at a tight ninety minutes (trying to exposit their way out of making you care with a terrible framing device) which makes it feel like a salvage job for a TV show that only got to the second episode before production was pulled. There’s just never a moment in here that feels convincing in the least which I ASSUME is a concession to the younger audience to keep it from becoming too intense, but it ultimately comes off as horrendously lazy from a director who should know better and a studio who should have had more faith in the project. Perhaps the best example of this is a death scene that happens in the movie where a character is crushed to NEAR death but is still able to move up a flight of stairs and sit in a chair for five minutes before nodding their head downward to indicate them shedding off their mortal coil. I mean I’ve seen some BAD death scenes, but never one this poorly staged, shot, and acted in a movie alleging to be from a major studio.
Perhaps it’s my lack of imagination or exposure to the wide range of young adult fiction out there, but throughout the movie I couldn’t help but compare it to the first Harry Potter film. We’re twenty years out from the first film and yet the special effects have not improved an iota; especially the centar effects which are undercut further by dodgy staging and an overly cheesy tone on top of just being rather poor. There’s just no atmosphere to this movie and nothing worth getting investing in the way that you could glom onto Harry’s story. Let’s dig into this; what is it about THAT movie that worked that this film is causing this film to fall woefully short? Most importantly, at least for me, the movie was about the world as much as it was about the character; letting the scenery speak for itself, establishing locations and crafting a believable society in which our character immerses himself into and we as the audience get to experience it all vicariously. The grandeur of the dining hall with the floating candles and magically appearing food, the layout of the castle with its constantly shifting staircases, all of which gives you a willingness to believe in the setting despite how magical it is. Because this movie is in such a rush to get anywhere, there’s no time for any of that. The film takes place almost entirely in a single house, yet we never get a sense of its layout or what inside of it is of importance to our character. There’s an entire society living underground full of magical creatures, but outside of its vaguely defined law enforcement apparatus, there’s almost nothing explained about it; certainly nothing that would make you want to go there like you would to Hogwarts or Diagon Alley. Maybe there are nostalgia goggles at play here and a new generation shouldn’t be subjected to repeating MY childhood, but for a movie about magical creatures and the wonders of the world, there’s just no magic to be found here as everything looks fake and shallow. Before today I wouldn’t have thought that Christopher Columbus was a better director than Kenneth Branagh, but here we are! Then again, I don’t think even HALF the stuff in the initial teaser trailer made it into the film so who knows who’s to blame here. In any case, If Disney doesn’t pay for his next three Hercule Poirot films then he got the raw end of this deal for sure.
SO is there anything about this that could have been saved? I don’t know, it’s a REALLY tedious sit all the way through which makes it hard for ANY silver lining to shine through, but I guess the central premise isn’t bad and the film ends on a note that a PROPER movie could leap off from. In fact, the one movie it should have tried to rip off more than Harry Potter would have been Men In Black, and as one of the only people who actually LIKED Men In Black International I may have even had a blast with a movie that was about globetrotting and smartly dressed peacekeepers interacting with creatures from folklore and stopping bad guys with inventive magical weaponry. Granted, this is probably not the best TIME to be making a movie that’s basically MAGIC POLICE FOR KIDS, but it’s not exactly a concept COMPLETELY absent from this film and doing a half-assed job of it doesn’t make it half as problematic.
In a just world, Disney would have put the resources behind this thing to make it into a GREAT film series instead of just this embarrassment before us, but instead I’m stuck here having to be super critical and at least a little bit snarky about a film that couldn’t hold a candle to YA adventure films like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children; much less the big behemoth overshadowing the entire genre. I can only hope that the disastrous decisions of this film aren’t reflective of the source material and that MAYBE we can get a decent adaptation in the future for all the fans that want it, but what we have here and now is an absolute mess of bad ideas, bad filmmaking, and a seeming lack of interest from all involved. Even if you’re burned out on Harry Potter there are PLENTY of alternatives out there that you don’t need to force yourself to suffer through this one. We’re just gonna have to wait for the My Teacher is an Alien movies for the next great Harry Potter rivalry! That’ll SURELY be the one to do it!