Artemis Fowl (2020) Review
A MESSY AND BOTCHED
YA FANTASY ADAPTATION
The success of the J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels has indeed captured the hearts and minds of millions or readers around the world; sparking a massive wizarding world franchise, including a film saga that spanned 8 movies of the seven original Potter books as well as new prequel spin-off in the works. Given the amount of popularity with moviegoers and a hefty overhaul at the box office for each release, it was no surprise that many film studios started to buy up the rights for various YA novels, for potential film franchise to spark interest. This includes 2006’s Eragon, 2007’s The Golden Compass, 2009’s Inkheart, 2010’s Percy Jack and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, 2011’s I Am Number Four, and 2013’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones just to name a few. Unfortunately, most of these projects failed to meet expectations, with most receiving mediocre to negative reviews from critics and was pretty much a “one and done” endeavor with most studios not moving forward with its planned sequels. Was the reason behind it? This includes various reasonings such as director’s decision, budget limitations, odd casting choices, and being unfaithful to the source material. Now, Walt Disney Studios and actor / director Kenneth Branagh present the latest YA film adaptation with the movie Artemis Fowl; an adaptation of author Eoin Colfer first novel of his Artemis Fowl series. Does the movie find a proper balance in its translation from “book to film” or does it falter and squander its potential opportunity?
Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) is not your average 12-year-old as the youth is gifted with intellect genius and heightened skills, which was overseeing by his father, Artemis Sr. (Colin Farrell), an antiquities dealer who’s created a castle for himself in Fowl Manor, which is located the Ireland. While heading away on busines, Artemis Sr. is captured by the nefarious shadowy figure known as Opal Kobol (Hong Chau), a wicked pixie who demands possession of the Aculos, a special weapon of power currently located in the human’s secret safe. Also after the powerful relic are the LEPrecon, an elite and organization of Fairies located at the center of the Earth (Haven City), with Commander Root (Judi Dench), a grizzled fairy, looking to take control of the device, putting her faith in Holly Short (Lara McDonell), the daughter of Beechwood, a once trusted / respected member of the LEPrecon and Artemis Sr.’s fallen friend. Soon captured by Artemis and his valued servant / bodyguard, Domovoi “Dom” Butler (Nonso Anozie), Holly inspires a full-fledged fairy invasion, leaving the intelligent boy to defend Fowl Manor and take possession of the Aculos to get his father back.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I’ve previously stated in several of my other reviews, I’ve worked at a bookstore for quite some time (over a decade and half). So, I’ve seeing plenty of YA books, novels, and series come and go off the shelves, with some that I have personally read and enjoyed throughout the years (i.e. Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Redwall, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, The Jack Blank series, and several others). As mentioned above, the success of the Harry Potter film saga certainly paved the way for studios to “snatch up” other similar YA titles for possible movie adaptations (and potential film franchise series). However, the late mid to early 2010 movies certainly proved that this theory wrong, with a lot of the YA / teen “page to screen” film adaptations being, more or less, mediocre to me. Films like Eragon, The Golden Compass, and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief are prime examples of this and definitely were a bit of disappointment to me, which is quite sad as the potential was there, but the films (be it director’s decision, screenplay handling, casting choices, or budget limitations) never raised the bar. This is even further disappointing that these potential “franchise starters” for films series very made it passed their first installment (most of them anyway). I mean, if you ever read the Percy Jackson series…. the whole entire book of The Last Olympian (the fifth and last book in the series) as a movie would be amazing (think of how Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II). In the end, there have been plenty of YA film adaptations over the years, but it seems that the movies themselves seems quite possibly “cursed” in their cinematic treatment.
This brings me back to talking about Artemis Fowl, a 2020 feature film from Disney that seeks to adapt the first entry in Colfer’s novels. Of course, working at a bookstore for some odd years, I remember hearing about the Artemis Fowl books (and have recommended them to customers), but I actually never read the series myself (even though I’ve been meaning to pick up the first book for quite some time). Thus, as a reminder to my readers, my review for this film is gonna be strictly based on the movie itself and not so much on what was added, changed, or omitted into its cinematic translation. Anyways, the idea of developing Colfer’s first book into movie has certainly been in “talk” for quite some time and has gone through a sort of “development hell”; beginning all the way back in 2001 (i.e. changing studios, directors, and executive producers along the way). In 2017, things finally started to materialized (the right way) for the project as Disney planned for a set release date for Artemis Fowl for August 2019. I remember seeing the trailer for it and was pretty interested in seeing the movie when it came out. However, Disney decided to push back the project into 2020 for a new release date set for May 29th, 2020. Unfortunately, due to the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the movie theaters closed and film studio began to shuffled around the theatrical releases, including Disney, which decided that Artemis Fowl would forgo a future theatrical run and decided to release the project on their streaming service Disney+. So, releasing the movie in June on Disney+, I finally sat down and decided to check out Artemis Fowl to see if it was worth my time. And was it? Well, unfortunately, it wasn’t. Despite a promising setup and some good ideas, Artemis Fowl ends up being a messy, haphazard, and unbalanced YA film adaptation that never truly comes into its own. The intent behind it all is crystal clear, but how the movie circumnavigate itself is quite befuddling and frustrating at the same time, which is never a good thing.
Artemis Fowl is directed by Kenneth Branagh, whose appeared in various projects as an actor throughout his career and has directed several features films, including Thor, Cinderella, and Murder on the Orient Express. Given his success with Disney projects in the past (i.e. Cinderella and Thor), Branagh seems like a likeable candidate to helm a movie like this underneath the “House of Mouse” banner. Branagh delves right into the mythmaking of Colfer’s source material; charging the movie with a sense of “hidden world” of magic and mystery, which seems quite ideal for a YA fantasy adventure adaptation. In truth, the idea of the film’s concept and various nuances do play a strong sense of Artemis Fowl’s allure of which Branagh utilizes and creates a very “boy hero’s journey” of uncovering the truth behind this magical world that’s filled with fairies, dwarfs, centaurs, and several other mystical creatures. Plus, I do like how Branagh decided to frame the film by having Mulch narrating the story through his interrogation scene. Yes, I do know that this storytelling tactic has been done before (in better movies mind you), but it creates a sense of mystery and intrigue of how the film unfolds. Additionally, Branagh seems to know his targeted audience and decides to keep everything evenly keel in its tone; producing a film that has plenty of humorous bits and kid’s fantasy action throughout.
In the presentation department, its quite easy to see that Disney Studios did put money into this film project, with Artemis Fowl definitely sporting a lot of visual flair throughout its runtime. This definitely helps the movie’s more imaginative innerworkings as it does help showcase all the fanciful / fantastic aspects and nuances in the movie’s narrative. I do have to admit that some of the overall looks of certain characters do look impressive (in a somewhat new fantasy interpretation), including how the fairies look through the usage of practical make-up, hair, and costume designs as well as a few visual effect shots. Thus, I do appreciate the movie’s intent of trying to create a very imaginative fantasy world, with the efforts made by the various members of the art direction team as well as Jim Clay (production design), Sammy Sheldon (costume designs), and Haris Zambarloukos (cinematography) showcasing very well in the movie. Additionally, the film’s score, which was composed by Patrick Doyle, does a very good job in complimenting the sequences in the movie. I’ve always been a fan of Doyle’s work, so his various cues and melodic moments (be it sweeping or dialogue driven moments) throughout the feature is pleasant to hear.
Unfortunately, Artemis Fowl is far from a perfect movie and is marred by a lot of glaring criticisms that range from storyboarding creation to the feature’s overall execution, which is disappointing. First off, the movie tries to cram too much information, mythmaking, and storytelling within its scant runtime. With Artemis Fowl only having a runtime of only 95 minutes (one hour and thirty-five minutes), there’s a lot that the movie has to unpack for all of its characters and story / plot arcs to examine; something that the film certainly struggles as everything about the movie is quite simplistic and is only “surface level” construct / storytelling to make the movie feel bloated and crammed within its minimal runtime. Because of this a lot of information (both character narrative aspects) is quite small and hurried; rendering a lot of what’s going on rather confusing and rushed as well as thinly sketched in various ways. Additionally (because of this), the movie itself feels quite “small scale”, despite the project wanting to be big and expansive, with the film’s two primary locations being mostly only Fowl Manor and Haven City. Thus, the scaling of Artemis Fowl, fails to impress and seems to be completely crammed.
The reasons behind all of this rest with both with the screenplay, which was adapted from Colfer’s first book (as well as few pieces from the second book) and penned by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl, and the film’s directing by Branagh. The screenplay fails to address a lot of things in the movie or rather just simply “touches” upon it for references (i.e. Holly Short’s father, the backstory of Opal Kobol, Artemis’s upbringing, Dom’s daughter, Mulch’s past, etc.). That’s quite a lot. Plus, as I said, the scope is quite limited in the movie, so we (the viewers) don’t really get to see much of this “hidden world” on Earth as well the hidden sanctuary of Haven City. I wish that the movie showcases more of the concept of the magical world that is hidden from mankind. Plus, the story’s dialogue feels quite generic and wooden, which doesn’t help, and never truly sparks. It’s as if the movie is going through the motions of storytelling beats and never stops to help explain things; jumping from one scene to the next in a rather confusing way. Additionally, the overall characterization of majority (if not all) of the film’s characters are woefully underdeveloped, but I’ll mention more on that below.
On Branagh’s part, the movie, as mentioned above, doesn’t really come into its own and fails to make a lasting impression. The result of a wonky screenplay doesn’t help, but Branagh seems to struggle on balancing mythmaking storytelling aspects from Colfer’s story and character-based performances. Of course, the performances are mostly fine (I’ll mention that below), but there seems to be an unevenness to the project, with Branagh rushing through events and not letting the character grow. Granted, the story premise is there and is quite clear, but it seems Branagh bites off more than it can chew; crafting Artemis Fowl with poor execution as he stumbles from most scenes to scenes; never really clicking with each other and in an otherwise nonsensical fashion. The film’s action is quite good and definitely delivers quite the blockbuster pizzazz, but those scenes are left few and far between. Plus, I do have to admit that the few visual effects shots look quite cheap, which is never a good thing, especially since this film had a budget of $125 million. Even the movie’s ending feels a bit unsatisfying, especially since the movie concludes with a setup for a sequel and the climatic ending to the feature is rendered moot. It’s quite a shame (for sure) to see Branagh, who is quite experience at pulling off critical features for Disney, to see him present such a messy production and to see yet another YA film adaptation disaster. I do believe that Artemis Fowl is worse than A Wrinkle in Time….and that was a terrible movie.
The cast in Artemis Fowl has several recognizable acting talents, but, while their overall acting is somewhat good, most of them never truly make their respective characters their own. True, they certainly elevate their characters in the film with their screen-presence, but what definitely holds most of them back is their thinly-sketched characterization and blandness personas. Perhaps the best example of this is in the film’s namesake protagonist character of Artemis Fowl, who is played by newcomer Ferdia Shaw, who makes his theatrical acting debut with the film. While Shaw’s acting is fine (I have nothing against him), the characterization of Artemis Fowl (remember he is Artemis II, the son) is terribly underdeveloped as a main character hero. There’s very little time to get to know him beyond his initial setup and the character never stops to reflect upon his circumstances, with little to no growth happening within his story arc. In fact, there is practically no story arc for him in the movie as Artemis just seems to reacting to everything that happens around him. Plus, the movie makes the character rather cocky and confident for most of the feature, so it almost makes him unlikeable. Such a disappointment in an otherwise flat and boring protagonist character and such a poor start to Shaw’s career.
Fairing a little bit better is actress Laura McDonnell (Love, Rosie and The Delinquent Season) as Holly Short, a fairy soldier in the LEPrecon organization who quickly becomes entangled in the film’s events and of Artemis’s plans. McDonnell certainly has a more likeable quality in her character of Holly, which makes her the more enjoyable of the two and she certainly handles herself better in both acting and character motivations. However, the script restricts McDonnell from further cementing Holly’s characterizations, especially since there seems to be a lot of background / backstory to her character; something that the movie acknowledges, but doesn’t follow through on it.
The supporting players in the movie are somewhat of the more seasoned / recognizable acting talents attached to this project, with talents like Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Nonso Anozie, and Colin Farrell leading the charge. Unfortunately, most of them are in the same boat, with the screen presence lending credence to their otherwise flat characters. Of the bunch, Gad (Frozen and The Wedding Ringer) fares the best of the group with his character of Mulch Diggums, giant dwarf expert thief, and definitely garners the most humorous bits in the film. Although Gad’s Mulch comes in halfway through the movie (barring the little interrogating scenes here and there). Behind him, Dench (Skyfall and Shakespeare in Love) is interesting as Commander Root, the commanding leader of the LEPrecon organization, especially since Dench uses a raspy sounding voice for her character. Root is rather straightforward as the grizzled leader archetype, but it neat to see Dench play the role. While Anozie (Game of Thrones and Cinderella) is fine as Dom (he physically looks like a good bodyguard character), Farrell (In Bruges and The Lobster) …. he’s barely in the movie as Artemis Fowl Sr. Sure, he definitely has the screen presence for the job, but he’s only in the film for a few minutes and doesn’t really make a lasting impression, which is sad.
As for the main antagonist character of Opal Kobol, the shadowy fairy figure that has Artemis’s father kidnapped and seeks the Aculos, is pretty straight-forward in the movie as the big “baddie”. Unfortunately, the character himself is pretty underdeveloped and never really comes across as a sizeable threat. There seems to be more “setup” to his character in future installments, but those potential sequels seem unlikely, which makes the character of Opal Kobol rather forgetful and underutilized. As a side-note, actress Hong Chau (Watchmen and Homecoming) provides the voice of Opal Kobol.
The rest of the cast, including actor Nikesh Patel (London has Fallen and Four Weddings and a Funeral) as Foaly, the centaur tech advisor of LEPercon, actor Joshua McGuire (About Time and Lovesick) as Briar Cudgeon, a power hungry lieutenant in LEPercon, and actress Tamara Smart (Are You a Afraid of the Dark? and The Worst Witch) as Juliet Butler, Domovoi’s 12 year old niece / protégé and Artemis’ best friend, are in somewhat of the same boat as the rest of the cast. I’m not saying that there acting talents are bad or anything, but rather that the character themselves (and how they are presented in them) and the screen-time allotted to them are pretty thin, wasteful, and utterly forgettable. I mean…. the character of Juliet is practically nonexistent and eliminating her character from the film doesn’t change anything and that’s disappointing to both the Colfer’s character
To save his father, Artemis Fowl searches for the Aculos and, by doing so, uncovers the “hidden world” of faeries and magic in the movie Artemis Fowl. Director Kenneth Branagh’s latest film brings Eoin Colfer’s popular YA fantasy series to a cinematic light; presenting the first installment as an origin story for a visual blockbuster adventure. However, while the intent is there and some action scenes / nuances are good, a great majority of the film feels underwhelming and haphazard, with contributing factors being of the variety of aimless direction, a bland screenplay, confusing elements, uneven pacing, thinly written characters, and odd decision-making. Personally, I was disappointed with this movie. The story intent is there and the visual aspect of the fantasy adventure is present, but the film is horribly jumbled, character messy, and just a bit of generally lackluster. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is hard “skip it” as it winds up being worse than Disney’s 2018 adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time (i.e. another good idea for a movie that’s poorly shaped and executed). While the end of the movie certainly does leave the story open for future sequels, that particular possibility of that happening seems unlikely. In the end, Disney’s Artemis Fowl ends up being just another failed YA fantasy adaptation as the cinematic tale of Artemis Fowl, Holly Short, and the hunt for Opal Koboi are just as wooden and uninteresting as the character themselves.
1.7 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: June 12th, 2020
Reviewed On: June 29th, 2020
Artemis Fowl is 95 minutes is rated PG for fantasy action / peril and some rude humor