Director: Kenneth Branagh
The corona virus has had a massive worldwide impact, with few areas hit quite as hard as those of the arts. Not only do theatres across the globe remain dark, so do cinemas, and the carefully planned release schedule of hundreds of Hollywood movies has gone out of the window. One studio that has been hit hard by everything grinding to a halt is Disney. Not only was its Pixar movie Onward only in cinemas a couple of weeks before they closed their doors, but they had a huge slate of other movies booked into release dates for the next two years. Some have been pushed back a few months (Mulan), while others have been delayed an entire year (Jungle Cruise), and then there’s Artemis Fowl. Planned to be released in cinemas on May 29th, following the lock-down it was announced that it would instead skip a theatrical release and go straight to the streaming platform Disney+. Was this because the studio had too big a backlog to accommodate cinema dates for everything, or was it a more ominous sign and an indication of the film’s quality?
So let’s just get this out of the way: this is not a good film. Disney are probably thankful that corona virus allowed them to save some face by sneaking it onto Disney+ instead of seeing it undoubtedly bomb at the box office.
Based on the first of eight fantasy novels by Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl is a young boy whose father’s disappearance coincides with reports that he is a master thief of antiquities. Artemis must uncover a secret world of mythical beings including fairies and dwarfs to save his father, and possibly the world. Further explanation of the plot would be difficult because, despite a constant narration as well as a lot of clunky exposition, it’s not entirely clear what is going on and why. The central plot revolves around some mystical item that needs to be found, but shouldn’t be found, but is found, or something. It’s all extremely woolly and confusing, as well as entirely unengaging.
To make matters worse, the performances are almost uniformly terrible. 12 year old Artemis is a cool, driven genius and master-thief, but the only way that we know this is because the narration constantly tells us. In fact Artemis as played by Ferdia Shaw is completely uncharismatic and rather unlikable. Shaw’s performance is stilted and expressionless and leaves an enormous void in the centre of the film. This is not helped by the usually reliable Josh Gad who is totally miscast as Mulch Diggums, an obnoxious dwarf who also acts as the narrator. Apart from a short and semi-entertaining scene in a prison cell, this character is required to have a certain air of gravitas and threat about him, qualities hardly associated with Gad who tries his best but flounders with a gravelly voice and some appalling jokes (some looking very much like they were improvised). Even the wonderful Dame Judi Dench doesn’t come out this film unscathed, her performance of a sort of fairy General Patton being flat and not at all helped by her adopting an even more gravelly voice than Gad’s. It should be said that none of the cast are helped by the dialogue which is at times embarrassing in how awful it is. However, a couple of the cast do manage to shine despite everything else: namely Colin Farrell, completely underused as Artemis Senior and the charming Lara McDonnell as the fairy Holly Short. The film is a little easier to stomach when either is on screen.
It’s hard to understand what attracted Kenneth Branagh to direct this but at least he does the best job he can with what he is given. There are some genuinely beautiful exterior shots of Ireland and the action sequences are staged so that it is at least visually clear as to what is happening. However the entire film has a strangely cheap look to it which ironically makes it almost seem like it was made for TV, and there is a total lack cinematic magic that brought the likes of the Harry Potter films so much to life. The whole thing is a dreary and confusing mess.
While trying to capture some of the magic of the Harry Potter films as well as other obvious influences such as Men in Black and Star Wars, Artemis Fowl simply comes across as an almost perfect storm of bad decisions in filmmaking. The fact that it has the audacity to end with the clear intention of this being the first of a series of films frankly boggles the mind.
Artemis Fowl is available on Disney+ now