Waking to discover that his father has been kidnapped by a malevolent fairy, 12-year-old Irish prodigy Artemis Fowl has only three days to save his father? Can he and his band of magical helpers succeed? Well, let’s find out.
Artemis Fowl, like the Harry Potter franchise before it, is a film adaptation of a novel with a slew of sequels behind it. However, whereas J. K. Rowling’s creation was a worldwide phenomenon which demanded to be put on the big screen, writer Eoin Colfer’s tales of a child prodigy have languished in Hollywood’s development hell. Now finally brought out into the starlight by Disney and Thor director Kenneth Branagh, the questions is will Artemis Fowl have the same magic touch as Harry Potter?
Watch it if you must, but the outstretched fingers over your eyes will probably remind you how 2007’s The Golden Compass felt.
Well, by arriving on its heels, one thing is for sure. The film looks beautiful. As the unwitting beneficiary of even more refined CGI and special effects since the Harry Potter films were made, Kenneth Branagh’s Artemis Fowl certainly looks the part. Whereas the set pieces and locations often evoke vistas you might have already visited in other films like Star Wars Episode I, the thematic theft doesn’t stop there.
With a plot that mixes archaeological larceny (think Raiders of The Lost Ark and Tomb Raider), it turns out that Artemis’s dad (confusingly also called Artemis Fowl) has been stealing magical artefacts “lest they fall into the wrong hands”. Uh-huh. Naturally, his has all been done in the name of keeping the parallel worlds of magic and reality from crashing into one another (again Harry Potter), which makes both father and son effectively interdimensional peacekeepers (thereby bringing us to the Men in Black).
So, whether it’s Artemis or his worryingly trope-laden servant “Dom” Butler dressed in suit n’ shades à la Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones or the Judi Dench’s fairies wiping the minds of witnesses, the parallels to the Men in Black series are aplenty. Possibly to further distract from the crime in progress, Artemis Fowl‘s cinematic fingers then visit the world of J. K. Rowling. In casting Josh Gad as Mulch Diggums, a gigantic dwarf who hides everything in his mouth (whereas Harry Potter’s Hagrid used his beard), the two characters look convincingly like a match for separated-at-birth. Which is a shame because Dame Judi Dench is trying her best in a role that requires her to be a dour version of James Bond’s M. Yet, crucially in the lead role of Artemis Fowl himself, young Ferdia Shaw looks sullen to the point of indifference. Seemingly a recent graduate from the Anakin Skywalker School for furniture assembly, his IKEA style deliveries often feel more like dissection than diction. That said, who is good and who is definitely acting in the right film is Lara McDonnell as fairy Holly Short. Beatific and spikily determined, her presence is pitch-perfect for the matter at hand and thankfully she re-inflates many a ballooning scene that might have shot off round the ceiling.
However, where the movie really falls down is in its script. Bearing all the hallmarks of a literary adaptation that has been desiccated with low-carb rewrites, its expositionary dialogue doesn’t just get a starring role, it’s, unfortunately, the lead character in every sentence.
So, without a sense of irony to undercut all this starchiness, Artemis Fowl sadly becomes a tale of a rich, smart kid who would quickly pale in the presence of a wizard from under the stairs.
Watch it if you must, but the outstretched fingers over your eyes will probably remind you how 2007’s The Golden Compass felt. Nuff sed.