I think Disney and director Kenneth Branagh need to take a long, self-reflective break. Walt Disney Pictures poured over 120 million dollars into Artemis Fowl, their film adaptation of the popular young adult book franchise by Eoin Colfer, and created the hour and 35 minute abomination currently on Disney Plus. They could have been feeding children in Africa or giving clean water to Flint, Michigan with that money, but instead we have this mess of a film. For someone like me who has not read the acclaimed novels, nothing in this movie had any reason to exist. Every major event that occurs on screen feels out of left field because nothing makes any sense and the plot is virtually nonexistent. Artemis Fowl is a confounding mess with some of the most ridiculous casting, acting, writing and direction in recent years. Lovers of film and especially lovers of the books will regret watching it, unless you’re looking for a confusing and unintentionally hilarious movie to watch with your friends while high.
From the very start of this film, the audience is told that Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw), a 12-year-old smartass who treats nobody with respect, is a criminal mastermind. The movie never does anything to actually show how intelligent this kid is, but in an early scene viewers are told he holds himself equivalent to Albert Einstein. The plot begins when his father, Artemis Fowl Sr. (Colin Farrell), is kidnapped by an unknown entity who wants Fowl Jr. to find an object called the Aculos, which has the power to destroy the Earth if it falls into the wrong hands (I think?? I’m honestly not too sure). At first glance, it seems like a thriller about a boy genius, and then the setting suddenly changes to a fairy world that exists under the Earth’s surface. I’m still not sure why or how the socio-political goings-on of this universe connect with the main kidnapping plot, but yet this is what takes up the majority of the narrative. Essentially, Artemis Fowl must find this device to save his father while also kidnapping a fairy and forcing a pseudo-house invasion plot for some reason.
Explaining the plot of Artemis Fowl is a difficult task to take on, because it isn’t really about anything. Given the name of the movie, I initially thought the smarts of Fowl would be the focus of the plot, yet he never does anything to actually prove he is smart. He points out a chair in the beginning. That’s it. After this, the audience is supposed to automatically assume he is a super genius. To me, all he seems to be is a spoiled brat who has no motivation or drive. This makes everything involved with his character boring and pointless, which given he is the title character, doesn’t exactly bode well for the movie as a whole. Fowl’s butler (Nonso Anonzi) and his niece (Tamara Smart) are also players in this story, yet they have nothing interesting about them: no backstory and no reason to be there, which makes their inclusion fruitless and their characters void of emotion. All of the characters in this fairy kingdom, including Judi Dench as an 800-year-old general and Lara McDonnell as an up-and-coming soldier, have no real weight to them either, because this entire plotline feels like a weak subplot even though it takes up a majority of the film’s short runtime. And Josh Gad’s character? It’s hard to know where to begin there.
This brings to attention the acting. I love Gad in many things (the Frozen movies, The Book of Mormon), but in Artemis Fowl he gives one of the most unbearable performances in a Disney movie to date. His growly low voice grated against my ears like nails on a chalkboard, and his jokes are at a recent-Adam-Sandler-comedy level of painful. This character, named Mulch Diggums, is creepy, uninteresting, and to top it all off he has an elastic mouth and farts up dirt. It is so horrendous that it almost overshadows the horrendous performance from lead actor Ferdia Shaw, who has most likely never acted in his life before this film. Shaw looks lost in every scene he is in, almost as if he is a kid who wandered his way on set, accidentally replaced the professional actor, and was given the title role regardless. Given Shaw is playing a super genius who supposedly is concocting a master plan throughout the movie, his performance does not convince the audience that Fowl has any credibility, to say the least. Colin Farrell and Judi Dench are veteran actors that try their best to look somewhat sane, but even they don’t leave the movie without their fair share of laughable scenes.
It puzzles me that Kenneth Branagh, director of classic film adaptations such as Henry V and Hamlet, was even remotely involved with this disaster. This seems as if it was edited by robots that Disney created to water down all of their products, not the official president of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. The fact that Branagh filmed these scenes thinking they were going to amount to a great family movie confuses me, and makes me think he should take a break for a while if he was truly behind this. However, a more likely possibility is that studio interference dictated the direction of the narrative and Disney-fied the final product of Artemis Fowl. Either way, no praise can be given to anyone involved in this movie that I can think of. There are a couple scenes of decent visual effects, but even those scenes are outweighed by cheesy green screen effects and whatever the hell they did to Josh Gad.
Skip Artemis Fowl unless you want to see for yourself how awful it is. The source material doesn’t deserve this slander on its name, similar to how the original series of Avatar: The Last Airbender didn’t deserve to have its credibility tarnished by the M. Night Shyamalan tragedy. So far, Disney Plus hasn’t really proved its worth as a streaming service, and this film proves that it serves as a dumping ground for Disney movies that they know aren’t good enough for a theatrical release. This movie alone made me question the seven dollars I give Disney Plus every month; why support a company that releases constant drivel like this? Artemis Fowl is the true product of 2020, a soulless mess that gets progressively worse the longer it lasts.
I give Artemis Fowl an F.