Disney has had a largely successful track-record when creating satisfying blockbusters. Whether from beloved existing material, or a pairing with original filmmakers, there are rare misses with this roadmap. The highest profile flop, both financially and critically, for the studio was Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time (2018), which turned an ambitious novel into a CGI landscape riddled with poor child-actors. Artemis Fowl (2020) has had a troubled road to the big screen since before the cameras even started rolling. Originally slated to come out in the early 2000s, it has taken two decades for the project to be made, with Shakespeare-lover Kenneth Branagh in the director’s chair.
Artemis Fowl is adapted from the best-selling YA novel of the same name by Eoin Colfer. The film follows the eponymous genius boy (Ferdia Shaw), as he tries to rescue his father (Colin Farrell), who has been kidnapped by creatures of Irish folklore. Artemis must devise a plan to trick these creatures (including fairies, goblins, and dwarves) into getting back his father.
As a disclaimer, I have never read the book. However, the novel did seem to be riding the post-Harry Potter wave, where hundreds of authors were trying to replicate the narrative formula. Artemis Fowl as a film, having come out nearly a decade after the Harry Potter film series ended, feels like an outdated blockbuster.
But the problems with this film are much larger than that. The script is absolutely terrible, with every piece of dialogue being a blunt vomiting of exposition. It seems ludicrous that a film incorporating parts of two books in the Artemis Fowl series would only last one hour and 35 mins. There is an incredible amount of world and character building to do, and yet the screenwriters seemed to think all this unnecessary. Instead we are plopped down into Artemis Fowl’s mythical world with characters only opening their mouths to explain plot points.
Then there’s the writing of the characters themselves. Artemis is supposed to be a child genius, and yet the only way that the screenplay is able to show this is by saying that the entire unfolding events of the film were all part of Artemis’ “plan.” Not only is this implausible, but it’s a mark of incredibly lazy writing as well. Artemis’ character is not helped by a very poor performance from Shaw. Branagh might be an accomplished Shakespearean director, but he seems to have a much tougher time inspiring child performers.
The adult actors are not much better off either. Colin Farrell is largely saved thanks to his small amount of screen time but the likes of Judi Dench and Josh Gad are completely on the front line. Both actors are forced to don an inexplicable gravelly voice that makes viewers snort every time they speak; in a conversation between both of their characters, it seemed as if one were watching which could pull off a better Batman impersonation.
Furthermore, Branagh is incapable of bringing much imagination into his directing, making the visual style of the film feel incredibly bland. Despite reports of an incredibly high budget, the costumes, sets, and visual effects are all extremely unoriginal and stale.
Artemis Fowl doesn’t have many salvageable aspects. The film has absolutely no pacing and the short running time soon feels like three hours. Adults and children alike are prone to be bored within the first twenty minutes of the film and as the minutes tick on your eyelids will droop.