2 out of 5
Irishman Eoin Colfer published his first Artemis Fowl novel almost twenty years ago in 2001. I read it and most of the series at the time and was a huge fan. The character, Artemis Fowl was both a child and a criminal mastermind. It was new. It was unconventional and I loved it. It surprised me that what was clearly awaiting a cinematic adaptation has taken so long to materialise. The books were like screen-plays in the mind. Fast forward to 2020 and Kenneth Branagh (known as "Chuckles" Branagh to those of a certain parish) has been brought in to direct what, one suspects, is intended to be the start of a new Disney franchise to rival the Potter books.
Dublin actor Ferdia Shaw plays Artemis Fowl who lives with his father (played with gusto by Colin Farrell). His father reads to him stories of fairies and secret worlds of myth and legend as a young boy. His father often disappears for long periods "for business" and Artemis is taken care of by a butler named Butler (I know). During one such trip Artemis's father is abducted and some baddie of the underworld is holding him hostage in exchange for a Maguffin that Artemis must find. We're told at the outset that Artemis is smart. In fact, we are told this many times, by many people, in many ways. Professor Exposition should have been listed as a main character. As Artemis begins to solve the mystery and find the Maguffin he encounters some resistance from a group of fairies led by Commander Root (played earnestly and with the only credible Irish accent, by Dame Judi Dench). I kept wishing for her to say "I am Root" but it was an opportunity missed!
There are good fairies and bad fairies and trolls and lots to keep young minds occupied. All get their just desserts while Artemis succeeds in finding the Maguffin and using it to solve world hunger and bring about peace in our time. He also somehow uses it to rescue his father. So all's well that ends well.
I jokingly said there should be a main character called Professor Exposition. I was only half-joking because there is. His name is Mulch Diggums (played by Disney favourite, Josh Gad). Diggums is arrested by some shadowy organisation or other, it's never really explored. Through the old trope of an interrogation, Diggums tells the story of Artemis Fowl and fills in the blanks with the necessary exposition. Did I mention there is a lot of exposition in this film? Josh Gad, last seen as Olaf in Frozen 2, is in good form and carries the weight of the story-telling admirably.
For his part, Colin Farrell is fine, never stretched and his role seems merely to exist to create Artemis. Ferdia Shaw, as Artemis Fowl never really rang true for me. I wasn't sure if it was the accent or acting or script or a combination of all. He does come from acting royalty. His grandmother is none other than Mary Ure. Dame Judi brings her A-game and delivers lines that any other actor would cringe over with aplomb and authority. Apart from delivering teh ubiquitous "top of teh morning", she was the highlight for me. I suspect the only reason she is in this is because Kenneth Branagh was directing.
It was a logical choice for Disney to choose Branagh to create the world of Artemis Fowl. He did it with success in the first Thor film, creating a believable Asgard. Here, he has created a wonderful world that will delight many. The fairy world is a a wonder, their methods of transportation astonishing. We won't mention the "big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey...stuff". Branagh directs Haris Zambarloukos, his cinematographer from Thor to help create this new world. It is beautifully shot and vivid in its palette.
And so to the screenplay. Deep breath. The script was a three way affair which included Eoin Colfer himself and Hamish McColl (who penned Johnny English) and another Irish writer, Conor McPherson. To say the books bear no resemblance whatsoever to the film is being unkind. They do use the title. However pretty much everything else is jettisoned. I can see what Disney were intending.They wanted to create a film that will appeal to younger viewers.They have done that but have also disenfranchised fans of the books. I can almost imagine a point where someone asked: isn't Artemis supposed to be a criminal mastermind? They then stuck a line in at the very end of the film where Artemis announces to the viewer that he is a criminal mastermind. I would have loved to have seen that film.
Artemis Fowl is streaming now on Disney+