Artemis Fowl Review

Artemis Fowl
Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) is a 12-year-old genius who must negotiate between humans and fairies when his father (Colin Farrell) is kidnapped. A giant dwarf (Josh Gad) and disgraced fairy police officer (Lara McDonnell) may prove key to his plans.

by Helen O'Hara |
Published on
Release Date:

09 Aug 2019

Original Title:

Artemis Fowl

The first of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books concerns a largely unrepentant criminal mastermind in its 12-year-old hero, but his illegal edges have been considerably softened for his film debut. It makes one of children’s literature’s foremost rotters less fun than he should be, in the first of a number of storytelling missteps in Kenneth Branagh’s big-budget adaptation.

Artemis Fowl

Set in Ireland (the film plays fast and loose with the country’s geography), this Fowl family only steal to safeguard certain items and preserve the balance between the fairy and human worlds: the Rosetta Stone, Book Of Kells and something called an “Aculos”. That’s a magical object named as the ransom demand when the globe-trotting Artemis Fowl Sr (Colin Farrell, underused) is kidnapped by a shadowy figure identifed only as Opal Koboi (the book series’ big bad). Young super-genius Artemis (Ferdia Shaw) and his trusty right-hand man Domovoi Butler (Nonso Anozie) have to find the Aculos, which for some reason they do by kidnapping fairy Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) and inviting a home invasion.

The script, based on the first two books, shows signs of having been cut to ribbons and woven back together.

Colfer’s world is Bond — or at least Stormbreaker — meets Peter Pan in its intelligence-versus-magic plot, but this is less fun than that should be. In an effort to appear less Tinker Bell, these fairies brandish high-tech weaponry and magic that can be “jammed” remotely; even their wings are mechanical. It’s the humans here who have magnificent libraries full of old books and odd relics, but that neat reversal might work better if Artemis himself weren’t so tech-minded. Worse, the fairy kingdom seems deeply dystopian and barely connected to any of the myths and legends that might have lent this depth and texture (keep them peeled for a strained leprechaun pun). The camera swirls for ages to let us take in their city of Haven, but unfortunately none of it dazzles, especially in contrast to the worlds that Branagh created in Thor or even Cinderella.

But the real problem here is that the script, based on the first two books, shows signs of having been cut to ribbons and woven back together. Newcomer Shaw’s Artemis seems virtually immobile for much of the running time, communicating less cunning and more a sense that he’s not sure what to do. Tamara Smart, as his friend and Domovoi’s niece Juliet, has nothing to play with; her biggest scene involves delivering Artemis a sandwich. In contrast, Holly is given a whole heap of distracting backstory about her disgraced father that adds a good ten minutes to the interminable exposition that is the film’s first half, laid out by Josh Gad’s Mulch Diggums, a giant dwarf whose interrogation by an unseen British Intelligence officer (for some reason) in an off-shore detention centre frames the tale.

There are some highlights. Judi Dench, as fairy commander Root, essays a largely solid Irish accent, Gad gets a good joke about gluten, and Nonso Anozie is a cool henchman. But Artemis Fowl deserved a little more edge and a lot more coherence than this effort, and Irish kids deserve a better class of anti-hero.

An overqualified adult cast and some fun moments can’t entirely compensate for a defanged protagonist and too-static plot. This fantasy desperately needed a little more magic.
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