Artemis Fowl Is A Disappointing Adaption Of A Magical Book
As a fan of the book series it’s based on, Artemis Fowl is a bitter disappointment of a film, lacking the quintessential magic that got me hooked on the original books.
Based on the first and second book of the series, director Kenneth Branagh’s Artemis Fowl is set in two worlds: the human world that we all know, and a magical world that exists deep underground full of fairies, goblins and dwarves.
The balance between these worlds is threatened though when Artemis (Ferdia Shaw) a 12-year-old genius – and self-declared criminal genius – kidnaps a young fairy by the name of Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) in the hopes of finding his father (Colin Farrell), who has mysteriously disappeared.
Artemis and his loyal butler – although you shouldn’t call him that – Butler (Nonso Anozie) soon find their home surrounded by LEP Recon, the fairy police force led by Commander Root (Judy Dench), who will do whatever it takes to get Holly home safe.
It’s with a heavy heart, because I was so excited for this film, that I have to write that I really didn’t like Artemis Fowl. While Branagh makes what you might charitably call ‘interesting’ decisions, the story feels rushed and sloppy, while the characters are underdeveloped, paper-thin versions of their literary equivalents.
Consequently, the film struggles to be much more than a pretty underwhelming adaption of a great book, and a mediocre kids’ film at best.
Now it’s not all bad; there’s a lot of talent on the screen and that shows. Josh Gad’s thieving dwarf Mulch Diggums was a highlight, even if he is channelling Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow for the most part, but he was entertaining enough.
I’m not quite sure what he was thinking by doing a gruff Christian Bale Batman voice (one of the aforementioned interesting choices), but it was something.
Despite not having that much to do, Lara McDonnell was good as Holly, giving the character the requisite other-worldliness a fairy police officer would need.
Unfortunately, I must admit I wasn’t convinced by Ferdia Shaw’s take on Artemis. Playing the most intelligent person in the room is always difficult, and I found his stilted and detached performance just a little odd, to be honest.
I’m also bitterly disappointed that Nonso Anozie doesn’t get more to do in the film, Butler was my favourite character in the book, with a surprisingly rich and complex backstory, but he’s barely even a character in this, demoted to mostly being Artemis henchman and little more.
Judy Dench is similarly wasted. I was delighted when I heard the news she’d been cast in the film, but she’s mostly coasting through this – quite literally on a Segway at one point – bringing little to the character other than another bizarre Batman voice.
Branagh’s direction also leaves a bit to be desired, lacking any real flair. The action scenes lack any tension or thrills, mostly serving as filler between long, boring scenes where characters deliver exposition.
There is the occasional interesting visual; the tidal wave and fisherman in the time-stop come to mind, but for the most part the set pieces are overly reliant on wobbly CGI that wouldn’t have looked good in the early 2000s, never mind the 2020s.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is that it looks cheap. The costumes and sets wouldn’t look out of place on a Disney Channel TV show, and have no place in a film with an estimated budget of $125 million.
The story is also vaguely incoherent and wildly diverges from the book’s plot, which was quite self-contained and the stakes were relatively low. In the book, Artemis simply planned on ransoming Holly for gold. The film – for whatever reason – chooses to raise the stakes immediately by having a magical doomsday device in it.
My biggest problem with the film, however, is that in the process of making the leap from the page to the silver screen, Artemis Fowl has lost the thing that made him a compelling character who you wanted to read about – his complex morality.
The Artemis of the film has been sanitised, and in the process the character has lost what made him interesting and unique. In the books, the character starts as a straight-up criminal sociopath (think Damian if he was obsessed with fairy gold instead of ending the world), while the film essentially portrays him as rude but with his heart in the right place.
Both versions maintain the character’s brains, but pre-teen geniuses are ten a penny in fiction these days. What made Artemis Fowl interesting was the twisted moral code and greed he inherited from his father, and how these qualities conflicted with his love for his family and his genuine sense of altruism.
By making Artemis a reluctant kidnapper who is forced to commit crimes out of love, not greed, the filmmakers have accidentally robbed the character of his arc, leaving poor Ferdia Shaw with little to do other than wear sunglasses and occasionally say technobabble.
I really wish I could have liked Artemis Fowl, but an enjoyable performance from Josh Gad isn’t enough. I just don’t know who this is for. Fans of the books will be annoyed at the plot changes, while film fans aren’t going to be entertained by this slapdash mess.
Artemis Fowl is available to stream on Disney+ from June 12.
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