A screen adaptation of the popular YA book series Artemis Fowl has been in the works for a long time, with the movie originally announced back in 2001, the same year that the first of author Eoin Colfer’s books was published.
Kenneth Branagh signed on as director back in 2015, and the film finally went into production in 2018. Due for release in the cinema in 2019 and then left sitting on a shelf (not a very good sign), the movie release was then delayed until the summer of 2020 but, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, has now been launched straight to streaming (Disney+).
So, has it been worth the wait?
If you’re a fan of the books, the answer is probably not. Based loosely on the first two Artemis Fowl novels, the movie changes quite a lot from the very start. The books tell the story of 12-year-old master criminal Artemis, a pretty unlikeable anti-hero who leads the family criminal empire and uncovers a world of fairies and kidnaps one. In the movie, however, Artemis (Shaw, grandson of Jaws actor Robert) is a very bright and precocious kid, but he’s no criminal, and when he stumbles across the fairies he ends up befriending one – Holly Short (McDonnell) – who is originally his enemy in the novels.
The involved plot of the books is pretty much abandoned, too, and instead we have quite a simplistic one. Artemis’s dad (also named Artemis Fowl, and played by Farrell in a brief cameo) has disappeared (Artemis’s mum, alive in the books, seems to have been left on the cutting room floor), and once Artemis Junior all too easily believes and figures out there are fairies and goblins and dwarves in the world, he is blackmailed by a mysterious figure who wants some glowing artefact called the Aculos in return for Fowl Senior’s life.
Meanwhile, in the fairy world below, Holly is sent to investigate Artemis at the behest of Commander Root (Dench, sporting a bouffant that’s almost as scary as her feline costume in Cats and an Oirish accent that’s the only thing funny in the film) but instead ends up helping him, along with ‘giant’ earth-eating dwarf Mulch Diggums (Gad).
There are some reasonably impressive set pieces as you’d expect from Branagh following his slick direction of the live action Cinderella and Marvel’s Thor – notably the time-stop dome that encompasses Fowl Manor when Root and her army of fairies lay siege to Artemis and his bodyguard Butler (Anozie) and an attack at an Italian wedding by a big troll.
But with a running time of little more than 90 minutes, you get the feeling even if you haven’t read the novels that a lot of good stuff has been left out, from character development to subplots (such as the dude after Root’s job) that are just left hanging in the air, or hastily explained by Mulch’s fill-in-the-blanks narration.
On the acting side, Dench and Gad seem to have been told to act as if they are in panto, while Anozie, Farrell and McDonnell are fun, even if they don’t have much to work with. Shaw, unfortunately, looks completely lost and awkward throughout, leaving us to wonder whether he should have been searching for a better script rather than wasting his time looking for the stupid Aculos.
Is Artemis Fowl suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
There are some action sequences but you never feel any of the characters are in great danger.
Mulch can open his jaw very wide, which looks quite odd and may disturb very young children.
If you like this, why not try: