Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television and games.
Whenever you hear an adaptation made by Disney, the results always are either positive, negative or somewhere in-between...depending on who you ask. Since the beginning, Walt Disney has always been known for making feature-length adaptations based on almost anything whether it's animated or live-action and the company itself continues that legacy. While the majority of them are not completely accurate to the source material, they remain faithful under artistic craftsmanship, memorable characters, songs and an innocent charm that anyone could enjoy.
Then again, to date this review, the company is having a difficult track record on making adaptations. Sure, they have been financially successful with their live-action remakes of their animated features and acquired properties. Yet Disney is risky when attempting to make movies based on any media and would suffer big losses in the end. This is where Artemis Fowl comes into play.
Based on the 2001 novel of the same name, the film was intended as a franchise by Miramax and went through development hell until Disney bought the rights in 2013. With Kenneth Branagh being chosen as the director and having recognizable names like Colin Farrell and Judi Dench attached, this sounds like the project was in the right hands. It was planned for theaters in 2019 but got delayed till it finally got released on the Disney+ streaming service. Was it worth the wait?
Keep in mind: I have never read the novel series and there will be no comparisons between the movie and the source material. I will be reviewing the movie on its own.
Child prodigy Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) must rescue his father (Colin Farrell) from a group of fairies seeking to reclaim an item the Fowl family stole.
The best way to describe this concept is: a high-tech, spy movie mixed with Irish folklore. Hearing these components alone, this sounds like an interesting set-up for an epic adventure. One of the biggest highlights in the movie is the art direction, since Kenneth Branagh knows exactly how to immerse his audiences into a fantasy world. We enter into New Haven, a city hidden underneath the center of the Earth, where a secret civilization of fairies work as the Lower Elements Police reconnaissance (LEPrecon). Thanks to the futuristic aesthetics, well-detailed costumes, inventive gadgetry (such as a time-freeze bomb) and nice use of special effects, the visuals definitely benefit to the concept alone. Other creatures, primarily dwarfs, have creative capabilities like growing their hair to pick locks and act like "living safe" for items. We also get some beautiful cinematography of Ireland and its landmarks, all topped with an atmospheric musical score by collaborator Patrick Doyle. All of these components deliver a sense of eye candy. ...However, as amazing as it sounds, the execution of the actual story becomes unnerving and easily overshadows the visuals.
It's the typical kid saving parent story where the kid discovers a hidden family secret and uses it as an advantage to save the parent while facing the odds. As simple and cliched as it sounds, it also becomes confusing with a heavy dose of exposition and lack of world-building and character development that we were promised. Even the idea of a child being part of a criminal family is nothing new either. We have seen television shows, movies and even video games that done this concept better. It doesn't help either when the movie tries lightening up the mood with some comedy. Most of the "jokes" are mostly one-liners and dated pop culture references, which honestly fell out of place for a movie that is trying so hard to be an fantasy epic. When the movie ended and hinting here may be a sequel, it's impossible to accept because the audience is still having a hard time understand what's going on in the first place. In other words, the concept is there, but it was given in the wrong hands.
If a poorly executed story and forced comedy wasn't enough, many of the characters range from between generic to unlikable. Speaking of the latter, the core of this movie's downfall is the main character himself, Artemis Fowl, played by newcomer Ferdia Shaw. For his acting debut in a high-budget Disney movie...it was not a good first impression. He looked like he was stuck with this one facial expression and doesn't convey any emotion, even during the dire situation. The character he portray doesn't help make it better. While Artemis sounds like an interesting character being an intelligent child from a criminal family and learning about the Irish fantasy world around him, the character exposition and his bland performance wasn't convincing at all. Once the main fairy character Holly enters the scene, he immediately captures her without second thought, which causes the other fairies to raid his manor as a rescue mission while Artemis fights back in accusing them as his father's kidnappers. It is understandable he is under pressure looking his father, but his unintentional actions makes him act more like a brat than likable. Ferdia Shaw himself is NOT to blame; it is just the direction he was given and hopefully he'll improve in the future.
For the generic characters, we have his criminal father Artemis Fowl I, whose role is simply the kidnapped parent, Dom Butler and his niece Juliet are Artemis' loyal bodyguards, Foaly is the tech wiz centaur, Root is the stern commanding officer fairy, and Opal Kobol is the mysterious hooded kidnapper, which may be the "villain" but became anti-climatically wasted. However, there are two exceptions among the cast worth mentioning.
First, we have Holly Short, the reconnaissance officer fairy. ...Why isn't the movie about her?! She is a kind, courageous and determined fairy trying to her carry her late father's legacy. With newcomer Lara McDowell's performance, she acts and emotes more believable than the titular character. Plus, she also gives Artemis a punch in the face for his incompetent behavior. The second character is Mulch Diggums, a thieving dwarf criticized for his tall height and the film's narrator. It is complicated to explain since Josh Gad is usually a great actor and comedian and like Ferdia Shaw, he himself is not to blame. Not to say his performance was "bad" by all means, it would go under the category of..."questionable". Comparing his previous performances, he recaps the movie in a deeper tone as an attempt to make both himself and the movie more serious. Some say he would be the driving force for the "humor" for recurring gags like stealing Holly's items or mentioning dated pop songs. Yet with that description, it felt like a miscasting that gave the movie an inconsistent tone. The other actors tried to give their all in their performances but won't leave much of an impression afterwards.
Overall, Artemis Fowl is another wasted Disney adaptation with a confusing plot, questionable casting and a mixed case of simple and intolerable characters. Sure, it has an interesting set-up, pretty visuals and authentic music, but that's not going to save it for being classified as "okay". This movie is a definite skip for those who are looking more something fantasy fun and action. For those that are familiar with the books, chances are that they will be angry and/or disappointed. For die-hard Kenneth Branagh fans, lower your expectations and decide for yourself. If you ask me, stick to his previous Disney projects like Thor or the live-action Cinderella remake. This Disney movie is pure "flow play".