The state of young adult film adaptations looks dire. For every Harry Potter that explodes into the public consciousness, there seem to be a dozen or more failed franchises. Artemis Fowl released to Disney+, unfortunately, finds itself in the latter category. As someone who grew up reading the novels by Eoin Colfer, I came to the feature with hopes it would be a fun and exciting ride. However, director Kenneth Branagh feels out-of-place in the fantasy heist world of Fowl. Rather than an exciting adventure, the tale feels like a strewn together feature suffering from reshoots and cataclysmic visual and audio choices.
Artemis Fowl follows the titular teenage thief Artemis Fowl II (Ferdia Shaw) as he tries to save his father (Colin Farrell) from an unknown kidnapper. When Artemis receives a ransom demand for the mythical artifact “the Aculos,” his servant “Dom” Butler (Nonso Anozie) and Dom’s daughter Juliet (Tamara Smart) help him catch a fairy. The fairy in question, Holly Short (Lara McDonnell), seeks answers for her own father’s disappearance. Short’s kidnapping creates an interworld incident.
From the jump, Artemis Fowl struggles fo find its footing. An elongated intro and a never-ending narration from Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) tries to lighten the mood. Yet the dialogue and exposition would feel underwritten in a high school creative writing class. Riddled with cliches and occasional non-sense, Gad’s gravely vocals do not make it easier to buy-in. Not to be outdone, Short’s boss (Judi Dench) dons her own growl to deliver the fantasy heavy dialogue. It’s possible that one of these characters could use a comically silly voice and the film could survive. However, the two often share scenes, creating a cacophony of garbled dialogue.
Shaw becomes an impossible problem for the film to fix as well. The young actor seems a bit out of his element with much of his dialogue coming across as flat or boring. This ultimately falls on Branagh, who at some point decided to have the other characters talk up Fowl’s intellectual superiority. Yet Branagh never gives Shaw the ability to showcase those talents. If you strip your main character of the exciting actions that lend a character credibility, he will not work. While the novel captures Fowl as a character that always remains steps ahead of his competition. He’s arrogant to a fault. Instead, Branagh’s Fowl lags behind his foes, often relying on luck to survive. It’s a misread of the source material, and the results are disastrous for the storytelling.
An underdeveloped and faceless villain looms in the shadows, further complicated by the fact that actress Hong Chau was cut from the film. The visual effects work is not only jarring to watch but its execution is lackluster. Artemis Fowl struggles across the board and it makes you wonder why it even exists. Perhaps the cynicism behind making this film speaks to the frustrating quality on display. Seemingly made with the hope that audience members like myself would be interested in checking on their childhood stories, Artemis Fowl makes a strong claim for the worst film of 2020.