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Artemis Fowl – Movie Review

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Artemis Fowl – Movie Review

Rating: C- (Below Average)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

Almost twenty years ago, Eoin Colfer’s fantasy novel Artemis Fowl grabbed the attention of young readers with its depiction of a child criminal mastermind. While successful, it didn’t reach the same level of cultural phenomenon as Harry Potter. A film adaptation has finally been released and despite the talents of director Kenneth Branagh, the whole film is filled to the brim with exposition, which sucks some of the magic out. Curiously, Artemis himself is pushed to the background most of the time as the focus is a lot more on the green-clothed fairies and a giant dwarf with a penchant for digging.

Through its 95 minute runtime, Artemis Fowl can’t go five minutes without a character explaining things. However, even with all of the discussions, there is only a simple understanding of how this world works. More bothersome is the narration provided by Josh Gad, who speaks in a gravelly voice the entire runtime. Artemis is supposedly an evil genius in the books, but that doesn’t come through in the film. Outside of portraying him as smarter than the average twelve year old, he is not given much personality and that makes it hard to care about him or his quest to find his father. Artemis doesn’t even leave his house, which would have been a clever storytelling device if there was anything interesting about the young lad.

The film clumsily ties the fairies into his story, although it is through this military group that Artemis Fowl introduces some fun elements. The underground world inhabited by all sorts of magical creatures is beautifully brought to life by production designer Jim Clay and the many conceptual artists and visual effects crews who worked on the film. The fairy Holly Short, as played with needed spunk by Lara McDonnell, is easily the scene-stealer of Artemis Fowl. When she takes flight, we sense her joy and there is life to her performance missing from the rest of the ensemble. Branagh does bring a visual flair to a few of the action scenes.

The attempts at humour in Artemis Fowl fall short. Gad serves as the principal comic relief, but outside of one small interaction with Judi Dench, he’s not given great material to work with. There’s also a lack of menace, as hard as the movie tries. Any time we cut to Artemis’s father chained up in a dark lair, he’s being interrogated by a shadowy figure in a hood. Who is he and why should we care? The movie doesn’t do a good job of explaining this. The stakes feel surprisingly low and it never truly feels like any of the characters are in danger, resulting in a diluted experience.

Watching Artemis Fowl, one can’t help but be reminded of the film adaptation of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. That one also gave us frequent exposition, underdeveloped characters and featured a child trying to locate a beloved family member. The Golden Compass was edited against the director’s wishes and one wonders if the same happened to Kenneth Branagh on Artemis Fowl. The movie ends with the promise of a sequel, but whether that happens is up to the viewing numbers on Disney+. Otherwise, Artemis Fowl just exists as a generic fantasy adventure with a dull lead and a lot of talking.

Stefan Ellison