Meet Artemis Fowl Jr. This young lad has been trained and educated by his father about the world that he can see and can’t see. He is a 12-year-old prodigy and is a master criminal. He has learned everything from his father as well as from his butler Domovoi. He’s been groomed to take over the criminal empire from his father, but while on a “business trip,” his father was kidnapped by a shadowy villain named Opal Koboi. The ransom for Artemis Sr.’s release is a magical item called the “Aculos.”
The plot description I gave here actually sounds better than what I watched. Even when I saw the trailer for Artemis Fowl it looked to me like a combination of Spy Kids and the magical world of Harry Potter. I only wish it could have been that. Instead, we were treated to a movie that primarily delivered on dead-ends and with little of Artemis to show for it, starting with the introduction to a criminal dwarf named Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad). When we meet him at the beginning of the movie we see him arrested for his connections to the Fowl family. From there he starts to tell the tale about the incredibly brilliant genius that is Artemis Fowl Jr. However, as he continues with the story he tells little of Artemis and instead waxes on about the magical world of fairies and dwarves. So much time was spent on showing this magical world that I completely forgot about Artemis and that this is supposed to be his story. Later, when Mulch’s narration takes us back to Artemis he mentions someone named Juliet who is brought in to keep the reigns on Artemis, only she becomes largely irrelevant after she is introduced. Time and again the movie introduces an idea that would seem to be important, only to find it never addressed again. As for Artemis himself, the only thing we see out of him is how precocious he is. When Mulch describes how brilliant Artemis is by luring a tunneling dwarf (Mulch) to his home what we do see is how Artemis adapts and responds when he discovers that Mulch is headed there. Even when he captures a faery early on, it isn’t through his genius that this is accomplished. Nothing about how Artemis is portrayed even remotely suggests that he is this mastermind that all should fear. Then, in probably the biggest insult to the audience’s intelligence, Opal frees one of her prisoners to infiltrate LEPrecon, only when he finally shows up next to Commander Root there is nothing ever said as to where he has been or why he has been gone for so long. He is accepted back into the ranks of LEPrecon as if nothing ever happened. In short, this story is a disappointing mess.
The acting in this movie is barely adequate. Gad is fine as Mulch, but that’s all. Looking like a miniaturized version of Robbie Coltrane’s Hagrid, Gad doesn’t make Mulch an interesting character in the slightest. His presence can’t even qualify as comic relief. The lead faery sent to deal with Artemis is Holly Short, played by Lara McDonnell. She’s fine, but again there is nothing about her character that helps to sell her to the audience. We know that she has a personal mission to prove the innocence of her father (who it turns out worked with Artemis Sr. to try to save the world), but she feels as if she’s just in the way.
Probably the biggest waste is the casting of Dame Judi Dench as Commander Root of Lower Elements Police reconnaissance (LEPrecon). I am quite the admirer of Dench’s work, but why she agreed to be in this is bewildering. Perhaps it has something to do with Kenneth Branagh serving as Director for this trash heap of a movie. Instead of getting an amazing performance from Dench, we are subjected to a character who is largely annoying with the way she yells her orders about. We then have Colin Farrell as Artemis Sr., and while he has gained quite a reputation for working in fantastical films, here again, his presence amounts to nothing, and there is very little backstory given to us that would suggest his own genius in the Fowl Family Empire. We get no sense of the strong bond he is supposed to have with Artemis Jr. except for what is told by Mulch during his interrogation. His presence in the movie was so unnecessary I ended up viewing him as cannon fodder.
We also have Nonso Anozie as Domovoi and this is another actor I greatly like, having first seen him in Ender’s Game and again in Disney’s Cinderella. He has proven himself to be an amazing actor but doesn’t serve much in his role here. He is merely in the way but in a charming manner. Lastly, we have Ferdia Shaw as the young Artemis Fowl. Sadly, there was nothing believable about his character. I couldn’t accept that he was supposed to be both a genius and criminal mastermind, and I could not accept his emotional desire to see his father rescued. I couldn’t believe in anything about him. It pains me to say this, but he annoyed me.
One last reason I was excited about this Disney movie was that Kenneth Branagh would be directing it. He has proven himself time and again that he is more than a capable Director, both in real-world movies (Murder on the Orient Express) as well as action/adventure movies with a fantasy element (Thor, which I loved). I’m sure that many in the cast signed on for the same reason, but instead, we have a movie that is just one big hot mess. There are stories about delays in production that might have played a part, but ultimately this is Branagh’s movie, and it is bad.
As I sat down to watch this I found my anger rising rapidly within the first 10 minutes, and it never subsided. Aside from some good visual effects, I have absolutely no love for Artemis Fowl. As titles go, this movie should be called Artemis Turkey.
For having some good visuals along with interesting casting amidst some barely adequate acting and a dreadful story, I give this flaming heap of a movie only 1 out of 5 Aculos.
Artemis Fowl can be seen on the Disney+ streaming service.