#‘Artemis Fowl’ review: Disney movie destroys beloved books

#‘Artemis Fowl’ review: Disney movie destroys beloved books

June 11, 2020 | 12:05pm

Running time: 94 minutes. PG (for fantasy action/peril and some rude humor). On Disney .

If I was Kenneth Branagh, I’d use a pseudonym for the credits of “Artemis Fowl,” his new movie premiering Friday on Disney .

“Artemis Fowl,” directed by Mark Twain!

This fantasy flop is sunglasses-and-fake-mustache bad.

Of course, not all of Branagh’s projects have been winners. “Murder on the Orient Express” was overrated, “Thor” was serviceable and “Sleuth” slucked. All of those films, however, managed to make some small argument for their existence, whereas “Artemis Fowl” is begging to be banished to the Disney Vault.

Branagh and Tony-nominated writer Conor McPherson (“Girl From the North Country”) have taken Eoin Colfer’s extremely popular young adult books, burned them, swept up the ashes and dropped them into Final Draft. Their script is a jumble of endless exposition and hollow characters.

Take Artemis (Ferdia Shaw). Since the novels debuted in 2001, he has been a 12-year-old, Irish criminal mastermind. In the more cuddly-wuddly movie, he’s still a pre-teen and Dublin-adjacent, but now he’s just precocious and rich. Every bad-ish infraction the kid makes here is justified by the added-in, sugary aim of rescuing his dad (Colin Farrell) from the clutches of a rogue fairy.

Artemis Sr. wasn’t a character in Colfer’s first book, and, as played by Farrell, he isn’t one here either.

Lara McDonnell in
Lara McDonnell in “Artemis Fowl.”©Disney /Courtesy Everett Collection

The should-be fun of this tale is that Ireland’s famed mythological creatures — fairies, dwarves, trolls and leprechauns — are all real and relegated to a secretive existence underground after a long-ago tussle with humans.

Artemis discovers his mysterious family has a centuries-old connection to these beings, and so he manages to kidnap one named Holly, an agent of sorts in the LEPRecon unit (Lower Elements Police) who’s snooping on his vast property.

The detail-oriented hidden worlds of Wakanda in “Black Panther” or the chocolate factory in “Willy Wonka” are the most enticing aspects of those films. The same should be true here, but instead, we get a nondescript CGI cave where Dame Judi Dench lives.

Ferdia Shaw in
Ferdia Shaw in “Artemis Fowl.”©Disney /Courtesy Everett Collection

Fresh off lording over the creepy junkyard in “Cats” as Old Deuteronomy, Dench plays the fairies’ Commander Root, a grunting 800-year-old warrior who looks a bit like an angry Angela Merkel. Midway through the film, when she steps out of an airship she’s piloted, dramatically looks forward and says, “Top of the mornin’,” you wonder if we’re witnessing the result of blackmail.

From there, we watch an attack, a brief coup, a recovered ancient device and a happy ending, all crammed into about a half-hour.

Oscar winner Dench is at least campy — and thankfully fur-less — but the rest of the characters are unforgivably flat given the richness of Colfer’s source material.

Nonso Anozie, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad and Ferdia Shaw in
Nonso Anozie, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad and Ferdia Shaw in “Artemis Fowl.”©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett

Josh Gad rips off Hagrid from “Harry Potter” as Mulch Diggums, an oversized criminal dwarf with a knack for breaking-and-entering. Fowl’s bodyguard, named Butler (Nonso Anozie), is big, strong and shy, and has a sister you won’t remember. And Holly (Lara McDonnell) is wide-eyed and not noticeably good at her law-enforcement gig.

All of these characters should have some personality, but the actors are trapped in what feels like a CD-ROM role-playing game from 1995.

A word of encouragement for young Mr. Shaw: This is the 15-year-old actor’s first film, and he is unquestionably charismatic and sinister. He has a bright future, even though his first go-around turned out to be a wash.

For those hoping for a movie adaptation of each of the eight novels, as this film’s overly optimistic ending would suggest, I recommend starting a campaign to make a Netflix miniseries instead.


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