Kenneth Branagh’s big-budget extravaganza is a glossy and empty exercise in world-building. It is based on a screenplay by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl.
It crams elements of the first two books into a running time that’s just shy of 90 minutes. The film sacrifices character development and real drama for briskness and whimsy.
1. Quick Review
The premise isn’t all that complicated. The story is as old as Odin of Asgard, with a 12-year-old boy (with Ferdia Shaw in the title role) being tasked with a fantastic challenge. Saving his father (played by Colin Farrell) from a threat seemingly plucked from fables and fairy tales.
Yet, the script places a great deal of burden on some characters. They are saddled with doing a ton of spoon-feeding narration for the audience and often describes things we can plainly see.
This makes the film feel essentially like Spy Kids, albeit with greater ambitions and more elaborate visual effects.
2. Is it worth watching?
The script, in particular, takes a beating for feeling padded. However, this comes as no surprise. Considering how many rewrites it must’ve gone through over years of development.
Artemis Fowl is want to be Percy Jackson while being a distant dream from Harry Potter – any of them. Fortunately, there are a couple of redeeming features – one or two attractive set pieces, decent gags, and strong performances from the likes of Josh Gad.
There’s not much world-building to speak of, and the characters exist solely as quickly drawn sketches; they are not developed in the least. The narration is ham-fisted, the plot is nonsensical, and the dialogue is leaden and often cheesy. A slow-motion scene of young Artemis dropping a glass of milk in shock when he learns his father is missing is laughably inept.
The movie is by no means the first to indulge in genre gluttony. It wants to captivate you with magic and bizarre creatures in the Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts vein.
While also dazzling you with high-tech gadgets and geekery. It makes a big deal of its foundations in Irish mythology but also bombards you with a blur of Star Wars-grade military hardware.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh and based on the book by Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl follows 12-year-old genius Artemis Fowl. He lives in a mansion in Ireland with his bodyguard. He is a descendant of a long line of criminal masterminds.
His crime lord father (played by Collin Farrell) has gone missing, along with the Fowl family’s millions. As he finds himself in a battle of strength against a powerful race of fairies, he stumbles upon an underground world of fairies, trolls, and other mythical creatures.
The film’s script made it through the Harvey Weinstein saga, the behemoth Disney/20th Century Fox merger and a pandemic which merits applause on its own. The film version of Irish author, Eoin Colfer’s beloved tween fantasy series is nothing if not resilient. It now arrives under today’s circumstances in streaming form for maximum outreach.
II. Music & Visuals
Scottish film score composer Patrick Doyle is the music director of Artemis Fowl. He is known for his work in Henry V, Hamlet, Cinderella, Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire, Sense, and Sensibility, and Murder on the Orient Express. The film’s soundtrack includes songs such as Decks Dark by Radiohead, Start It Up by Campfire, and many more by Patrick Doyle.
The film, however, does have its moments. Branagh has shown an eye for striking lighting and imagery when he’s helmed larger productions like this, as seen through his live-action version of Cinderella.
The sprawling and ornate Fowl Manor, which sits atop a cliff along the dramatic Irish coast, is nothing short of majestic and impressive. Haven City, run by Judi Dench, is an intriguing mix of rough-hewn and high-tech.
3. Final Thoughts
While Branagh did an adequate job in a similar territory on Thor, he tends to lose the human dimension when juggling too much f/x-heavy technology.
The director teams again with his long-time cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos to deliver polished visuals. However, aside from some scenic beauty, there’s nothing here to rival the vibrancy of their work on.
Colorful and fast-paced, Artemis Fowl has plenty to entertain little kids. It’s a sugar-filled adventure that is best observed through non-critical eyes who don’t care about plot, character, or originality. Me? I’d give it two stars and a wide berth.
While Artemis Fowl’s future is unknown, the strongly negative critical reaction makes a sequel unlikely. Even if it paves the way for many misadventures to come.