I did a bit of homework before going into Artemis Fowl. Apparently this production has been in development hell for almost two decades. The author Eoin Colfer once joked the movie would be released two years after his death. Laurence Guterman (the director of Cats & Dogs and Son of the Mask) was once signed on to direct and a young (well, 84 years old but having about 800 more years ahead of her) fairy was supposed to be played by Saoirse Ronan. Then after Kenneth Branagh came on and finally got it made, this film was supposed to be released in 2019 but got extended to 2020. Boy, was that an unknowingly foolish exec choice. And after many people were upset by the trailer for depicting the titular Artemis as not the sort of maniacal mastermind he is in the books, and the pandemic, rather than another extension, executives decided to just release it on streaming, despite the fact this was a 125-million dollar movie.
I refrained from spoilers, but I looked at some Rotten Tomatoes reviews. And even though it’s been critically panned by critics and audience alike, two critics I pay attention to, Nell Minow & Richard Roeper, both really liked it. And ever since I fell in love with the live-action Airbender movie and did not loathe the 2015 Fantastic Four attempt (but still couldn’t recommend it), I learned how I shouldn’t relentlessly judge a movie before I really give it a chance. And I doubted I would hate this feature as much as I hated Cats or Fifty Shades of Black. And I was right. But I can also understand its harsh audience reception.
The movie’s credits opening introducing Artemis as he goes surfing, is astonishing in both filming and soundtrack. I love movie moments like this that wholeheartedly show and celebrate the landscape and musical culture of countries like Ireland that aren’t showcased in Hollywood much. Ferdia Shaw (in his first movie role as Artemis, and the grandson of Robert Shaw, who played Quint in Jaws) has the same glint and calculative face Iain Armitage and Jim Parsons give to Sheldon Cooper, fitting for this character as someone who feels smarter than everyone else and feels the world is his castle. Lara McDonnell has enthusiasm as Holly, and even though she’s under a lot of unnerving CGI she still feels like the right one for the role.
The biggest names in the cast, Josh Gad and Judi Dench, have moments that can be depicted as embarrassing. An exception for me is Gad sometimes has his mouth hilariously stretched wide as part of his character’s powers. I actually liked when he does it, because he’s very funny both on and off his chomping business. But Colin Farrell is underutilized. Unfortunately, so are all three people of colour in the main cast, Nonso Anozie as Domovoi, Tamara Smart as Juliet and Nikesh Patel as Foaly.
And as for Dench, and all the other fairies, they have emerald green suits that are more silly that mystical and authoritarian, and the fantastical sets look like they’re trying too hard to latch onto the invigorating weirdness of Star Wars. It’s okay to try, but these iterations lack the magic and amazement from giving viewers the possibility, the jubilant fantasy, of fairies and trolls and magic being real.
It’s decently entertaining, always on the go with something big, but it’s also sloppily put together. I didn’t like how too much of the film takes place in one claustrophobic setting, and the story is often too fast-paced to give proper relationships and drama that make us emotionally connected to the characters. Gad and Dench share a scene with angelic music, and the scene can’t seem to decide between comedy and serious heartache, leaving a strange sweet-and-sour taste. Then Mulch (Gad) ends up simply on the side of the team without a proper transition and truce, one of the many examples of the film feeling like a studio-cut version.
In the end, the actors seem to be having fun here, but too often the long-awaited big-screen take on Artemis Fowl feels like a campy knockoff of other fantasy stories and can’t shake a feeling of desperation to get it through customs.
If you like this, I’d try the live-action Alice in Wonderland movies, and the Percy Jackson books plus the two movies (well, the first one anyway. The second one felt like this movie too, taking an overly easy route without the feeling it would commit to other productions.)