With a $125 million budget and a primo post-Memorial Day weekend opening, Artemis Fowl was all set to be one of the tentpoles of Disney’s summer, nestled snuggly between the live-action Mulan and the Dwayne Johnson/Emily Blunt-starrer Jungle Cruise. It was also, presumably, the kick-off of a multi-film extravaganza based on the wildly popular YA book series by Eoin Colfer. The first part of that didn’t happen because of the pandemic. The second part isn’t going to happen because the film is an absolute mess.

An overcomplicated, bloated attempt to fill the void in the YA film franchise market, Artemis Fowl misses the mark of being a Harry Potter-ish fantasy and instead comes off like the dismal misfire that was 2007’s The Golden Compass—a ridiculously convoluted and visual effects-reliant movie that is overly concerned with setting up a franchise instead of telling its own story well.

Newcomer Ferdia Shaw leads the way as the titular kid-genius, a 12-year-old who trots through life believing Einstein was “usually correct”. When his father Artemis Sr. (a woefully underused Colin Farrell) disappears and is later revealed to have been kidnapped by the evil pixie Opal Koboi (Hong Chau), the youngster springs into action. With the help of bodyguard Dom “Don’t-Call-Him-the-Butler” Butler (Nonso Anozie), Artemis is off on his mission after being introduced to his father’s lifelong research into the existence of magical creatures.

Opal, we’re told, is holding Artemis Sr. hostage in exchange for the Aculos, a mystical artifact with world-changing powers (which, incidentally, never appears in any of Colfer’s books). Before we know it, every fairy, banshee, and centaur is on the hunt for the Aculos, culminating with the requisite big, third-act battle as everyone tries to get their hands on the thing.

Why? We’re still not sure. There’s something about a “time freeze”, the Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance (yes, the acronym is LEPRecon), and a huge troll that destroys Artemis’s living room, but it never adds up to anything coherent. Heck, even the great Dame Judi Dench (as the LEPRecon commander) and the solid Josh Gad (as our tour guide, an oxymoronic giant dwarf) can’t save Artemis Fowl from feeling like a hurried-up/mashed-up concoction of half-baked ideas.

Director Kenneth Branagh (who blessed Disney with his stellar live-action Cinderella back in 2015 and most recently offered up a decent take on Murder on the Orient Express) certainly knows his way around a film and does his level-best here to make something out of nothing. He spices things up with above-average effects and even brought on his buddy Patrick Doyle to compose a sweeping, Celtic-tinged score—one of the film’s few bright spots. In the end, however, everything is undermined by the all-over-the-place screenplay by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl. Frankly, Branagh never had a fighting chance.

Artemis Fowl’s cardinal sin, though, is that it sees itself as the launchpad for a presumptive series that could carry Disney through much of the 2020s. Had it taken the more prudent route of telling its story in a bubble (or even a part of one), we may not now find ourselves seeing the film as what it truly is, the introduction of a young man whom we will never see again.


1/5 stars