As the old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Similarly, the first chapter of a book and the first 10 minutes of a film can either hook you or dissuade you from continuing.
After viewing Disney’s long-awaited film “Artemis Fowl,” my first impression was WTF – or, in longhand, what the fairy?
“Artemis Fowl,” based on the book of the same name by Eoin Colfer, should have been the launchpad for a whole new film franchise. Instead, the film is a rambling, disjointed debacle lacking consistency and even rudimentary character development. It is incomprehensible from the beginning straight through to the weirdly anticlimactic finale. Those first 10 minutes introduce Mulch Diggums, a “giant dwarf” incarcerated in a remote location. His subsequent interrogation about a heist provides a framing device that attempts to set up the plot, but it is mostly just clumsy exposition delivered in a gravelly voice by actor Josh Gad doing an impression of Rubeus Hagrid.
Artemis Fowl II, the tale’s inferred hero, also shows up in those opening scenes. Portrayed by Ferdia Shaw, the 12-year-old immediately comes across not as an introverted, misunderstood prodigy but as an arrogant brat who enjoys parading his unique intellectual abilities to make others uncomfortable. In this film, Artemis is more Stewie Griffin than young Sheldon Cooper.
By the time the boy’s father flies off in a helicopter and disappears less than 15 minutes into the movie, it’s evident that “Artemis Fowl” is not going to get any better. Artemis Fowl I is played by Colin Farrell, though he seems to be the luckiest of all the high-profile names associated with this spectacular disaster since he spends most of the movie detained by Opal Koboi, a megalomaniacal fairy who dreams of committing genocide. Somehow, Judi Dench was roped into playing Commander Julius Root, which she interprets on screen as a fairy variation on the role of M in recent James Bond films. Like Gad and Farrell, Dench does the best with what she has to work with in this instance, but there is something about the performances of these actors that suggest they knew this film was in serious trouble.
Other key cast members include Lara McDonnell as Holly Short, an elven reconnaissance officer; Nonso Anozie as Domovoi "Dom" Butler, the Fowl family’s trusted servant and bodyguard; and Tamara Smart as Juliet Butler, Domovoi's 12-year-old niece.
The plot is ostensibly built around the disappearance of both the senior Fowl and the fairies’ most powerful and coveted magical device, known as the Aculos — which I suspect is fairy language for MacGuffin.
Despite the fact that viewers will drown in the tsunami of exposition, with characters delivering contrived lines that read like a bulleted list of important plot points, the story is largely unintelligible. Jumping back and forth between the human world and the fairy realm becomes increasingly confusing. Characters are flat and emotionless and are often forced by the script to say and do things that are not remotely consistent with their personalities. The special effects are sloppy and outdated, as best evidenced by sequences featuring a cartoonish rampaging troll. The troll in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone” looked much more convincing on screen — and that was filmed almost 20 years ago.
Disney isn’t perfect, but you would think that the company could have found a way to salvage this fiasco. Directed by Kenneth Branagh, from a screenplay co-written by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl, “Artemis Fowl” could have set the stage for a number of sequels — and it’s clear from the final scenes that was the intention. Colfer went on to write an additional seven books in the series, so the source material is there. Unfortunately, this film’s poor performance will probably put an end to any franchise aspirations.
“Artemis Fowl” was released digitally worldwide on Disney+ on June 12.
Assistant reviewer B.C. Zumpe, a 13-year-old, shares her thoughts on the film:
I usually give a long, detailed description of the plot, but I don’t really need to say much about the important parts of this film. Artemis Fowl Jr.’s father, Artemis Fowl Sr., leaves home often. When his father goes on another trip, Artemis Jr. finds out that his father has been accused of stealing. This upsets him, and to make things worse, he receives a phone call saying that his father was kidnapped. The kidnapper says that she will let go of his dad if Artemis brings her the Aculos, which his dad stole. Artemis finds out that all the Irish fairy tales his father told him were true, and he somehow uses this knowledge to craft a plan to get him back. A fairy named Holly goes on a mission, and then runs away to clear her father’s name because he was also accused of a crime. She happens to go to the Fowl house and gets captured by Artemis’ bodyguard, Domovoi. With the help of Holly, Dom, his friend Juliet, a big dwarf named Mulch, and the other fairies, Artemis has to find the Aculos and get his father back home. That’s what I understand from this movie. The main plot is pretty short and the extra time is filled with random events and dialogue. It feels like there are missing parts of the story and it’s hard to keep up with.
Artemis is kind of hard to describe. He shifts from intelligent and rebellious, to insecure and dependent on his father, and then to a self-confident criminal genius. This is one of the problems with this movie, the main character has no constant personality. Maybe this is supposed to be character development, but it wasn’t done well. I think in the beginning, the idea was that Artemis has trouble fitting in and isn’t good with people because he has a hard life at home. However, the story loses sight of this theme.
The mysterious kidnapper wants to use the Aculos to destroy humanity and start a new world of only fairies, which is why Artemis Sr. kept the Aculos in the first place. Other than that, she is also hard to describe. She doesn’t get much screen time and the viewers don’t really get to know her. Also, I read that she’s actually not supposed to show up until the second book in the series.
Domovoi Butler is Artemis’ bodyguard. He protects him and helps him throughout the story. Juliet is Artemis’ best friend and one of the few people who understand him. We don’t really see much of her. Holly Short is the daughter of Beechwood Short. Beechwood is thought to have stolen the Aculos, and people consider him a traitor. Holly is determined to find the truth. Mulch Diggums is a giant dwarf and con artist. He was supposed to help the fairies find the Aculos, but then he helps Artemis. The viewers don’t get to know him much, either.
The main conflict is that Artemis has to find the Aculos and bring back his father, which takes up most of the movie. Although, the most exciting and climactic part of the movie is a fight with a minor antagonist, which also takes a long time.
I couldn’t really connect with any of the characters. I almost felt sympathy for Artemis and his father, but as I said before, the story lost sight of that. I did like Holly and Dom, but I didn’t really feel a lot of emotion towards them.
I don’t know how to describe the pacing, since there’s not much of a plot. I guess the pacing was pretty slow. When you just have the main conflict, it feels like a short story spread out with unimportant events added to fill up a movie length.
I saw no moral from this movie. None of the characters learn a lesson, everything just works out the way they want it to. No one really changes for the better. The relationship between Holly and Artemis changes because their fathers went through similar things, but I don’t know what to learn from that.
The movie definitely sets up for a sequel, but I’m not so sure that it will actually happen, and I don’t think I really need it to. I am interested in reading the books to see if they’re any better. I started reading the graphic novel, and I’ve already seen parts that weren’t in the movie. I know some fans of the series are upset because the adaptation different from the book. I just don’t think it’s good as a movie.
Lee Clark Zumpe is entertainment editor at Tampa Bay Newspapers and an author of short fiction appearing in select anthologies and magazines. B.C. Zumpe, Lee’s 13-year-old daughter, is a middle school student, film buff and aspiring writer and director.