By Nick Maylor
I’m a big fan of Kenneth Branagh, both as an actor and a director. He’s shown tremendous talent in front of the camera and behind it. He has taken on many famous worlds of popular folklore. He’s directed in the realms of Shakespeare, Marvel, Tom Clancy, Disney Princesses, Agatha Christie and Mary Shelley. He has something of a knack for creating these fictional worlds yet in Artemis Fowl (2020), none of that “establishing a world” stuff seems to really be present. The movie might have been made with good intentions. It is competently shot and pretty enough to look at in spades but the final product is a loud, sluggish movie that seemingly recycles tropes, settings, themes and all manner of design from countless other blockbuster franchises. This movie feels like it’s trying to be fifty other movies all at once.
It’s also incredibly stupid. Apparently the source material was changed in some significant ways but this film feels like it’s trying to cram in way too much book material for a 90 minute film. We never stop for a moment of any pesky character development or establishing relationships between the characters. The script is awful. Josh Gad bookends the story in an interrogation room and he acts as our narrator of the tale of the legendary Artemis Fowl. It’s sort of pointless to have a narrator with all the exposition in this film. Along with Gad, every single character who appears on screen spends most of their time speaking by literally telling the story, filling in plot points, backstories, supposedly crucial information and the like, as if the whole script never got the full adaptation treatment when it was converted from a book. Seriously, everyone is just cramming in expository dialogue and nauseam. Apparently there’s a lot to know about this world where magic exists. Fairies, goblins, dwarves, trolls etc. All exist in secret I this world. Despite magic apparently being a huge part of the story, don’t hold your breath expecting to feel anything magical.
Artemis Fowl II (Ferdia Shaw) is a child genius who is too smart to have patience or understanding for other people, it would seem. His wealthy father Artemis Sr. (Colin Farrell) is a loving parent who regales his son with all manner of magical legends and fairy tales about the aforementioned creatures of Irish lore. These tales are (spoiler alert) all true, coming as a surprise to nobody. Artemis Sr. Is kidnapped and accused of pulling off several heists to steal various priceless artifacts from all over the world. A hooded pixie named Opal Koboi calls Artemis Jr asking for ransom in exchange for his father’s safe return. The ransom is a magic object called Aculos, the film’s McGuffin. Apparently it’s a special magic device in a world full of them.
The Fowl’s butler (Nonso Anozie) reveals to Artemis a secret library full of magic stuff that his father collected to protect the artifacts from falling into the wrong hands. The ethical concerns involved with one man amassing this much power via theft for some higher purpose is never really explored. Dad stole the stuff for the right reasons. Artemis and Dom Butler (literally the butler’s name) start searching for clues about Artemis Sr and his possible location. Like an Irish Bruce Wayne and Alfred, the duo find clues and start putting the pieces together.
Apparently the Aculos is the most treasured resource of the fairies, who live underground and assemble like an army of Santa’s elves in some militaristic, St. Patrick’s Day version of the North Pole where Santa is a fairy named Julius Root (Judy Dench). A spry young fairy named Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) is one of our protagonists searching for the Aculos on behalf of the fairies. Holly also has a personal agenda about clearing her disgraced father’s name a reputation. She eventually locates Artemis at his home and the budding romance we are supposed to see from Holly and Artemis is put to bed by a complete lack of chemistry between the two young lead actors.
Did I mention this whole thing is bookended and narrated by a dwarf (Josh Gad) in an interrogation room?
Are you exhausted yet?
You will be.
You will also be confused by all the plot getting explained to you by the characters in every scene.
I had to read the synopsis of the film several times (after seeing the movie) just to write this review and I’ve barely scratched the surface.
Here’s a list of films and franchises that watching Artemis Fowl reminded me of:
The Lord of the Rings
Gotham (TV series)
The Chronicles of Narnia
Guardians of the Galaxy
I have no idea what Branagh was thinking making this movie. Every joke falls flat. Every moment feels forced. It’s bombardment of information about it’s own fictional universe is dizzying and convoluted beyond reproach.
The CGI is good enough. The actors appear to try their best but nothing works.
At 95 minutes it is exhausting.
In summary, if you have Disney+ you can skip this one and choose from the service’s smorgasbord of better content.
That’s my review. I think I deserve points for not using the word “foul”.
Nick is an actor/writer/comedian/musician from Hamilton, ON Canada. Having been a film nut since the early days of his life, Nick has had an obsession with cinema and popular entertainment. Nick has written for thecinemaholic.com and is the current Foote & Friends “expert” on all things geek/superhero/comic-book related. Nick is the host/producer of the official Foote & Friends On Film podcast. Nick met John when studying acting at the Toronto Film School, for which John H. Foote was director and Film History professor. The two have been arguing ever since.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickMaylor