I read Artemis Fowl when I was 12 years old. I don’t remember much of it, it was almost two decades ago at this point but what I do remember is an enjoyable, fast paced fantasy novel with a precocious but likeable lead character who happily embraced his criminal antics. Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation in comparison is a stangnant bottle episode of a film that never goes anywhere while barely making any sense in the first place. Originally planned for a theatrical release, this cinematic offal reeks of studio tampering even before it was discarded onto Disney’s streaming service to be forgotten among the many many better films in their vast library.
For both hardcore fans and the uninitiated, Artemis Fowl is about Artemis Fowl Jr (Ferdia Shaw), who is forced to enter a world of magic and mythical creatures to rescue his father Artemis Sr (Colin Farrell). Forced to track down a magical weapon to trade for his fathers life, Branagh uses elements of Eoin Colfer’s first Fowl novel to rewrite his lead character into an utterly good, almost saintly hero. Problem with that is Fowl Jr is a bit of a dick. Although embracing Fowl’s self imposed title of criminal mastermind, this Artemis Fowl is never once lives up to this persona, instead if feels like mindless self aggrandisement by a thoroughly unlikeable lead.
While clearly experienced in world building thanks to his time spent establishing Asgard in the first Thor film, Branagh has re-written a world full of nuance into a kid friendly playground, full of flying ships, bright colours and no substance. One long CGI tracking shot through the fairy world serves as our introduction to a world that should feel different and new but it just looks like a rushed imitation of Branagh’s prior work. For a film about magic and adventure, it doesn’t seem interested in taking its audience to new places, just familiar ones. While they have built a wonderfully detailed set to bring Fowl Manor to life in comparison to the entirely digital one used for the fairy world, Branagh’s film traps itself within it’s walls for the entire film. It’s an adventure film without any actual movement.
The bizarre attempts to contort from fantasy movie into heist film about halfway through proves equally confounding as this criminal ‘genius’ relies on other people to do his thinking for him while screenwriters Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl try to pass it off as his own. For a film about an erudite 12 year old, any signs of intelligence are sorely missing, as characters roam around a house in what seems to be an extended sequence of hide and seek until Branagh breaks it up by reusing a set piece from earlier in the film.
It would at least be passable entertainment if Fowl Jr was even remotely enjoyable as a character but because of a thoroughly awful central performance and poor writing, this version of Artemis is a confusing mesh of self-righteous blowhard and vindictive pissant, who spends most of his time thinking about himself while those around him clean up his mistakes. What made Fowl enjoyable as a kid was the fact that he wasn’t perfect, he did bad things, sometimes for good reason, other times just because he could. Here he does it because of plot, to save a father who is more item than person.
While Branagh’s film points towards continued adventures of the boy thief, I think Disney, in their transition from cinema to sitting room have cleverly decided against the continued adventures in this painfully unoriginal world and while I’m disappointed for what this series could have been, I’m happy I won’t have to endure another distortion of mine and so many other kids childhoods.
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