“Artemis Fowl,” the youngest would-be young adult phenomenon, fails to take flight with a boorish adaptation that sucks the life and personality out of its literary source material.
Director Kenneth Brannah fouled up what could have been an interesting franchise by somehow crafting a movie that feels overstuffed, yet unimaginative and lazy in its world building. Where Eoin Colfer’s book series, which has sold more than 25 million copies, blends Irish mythology with young adult trappings to craft sprawling and somewhat unique storyline, the long-gestating movie adaptation feels small in scale and unambitious at every turn — roughing out the harder edges of the series’ main characters, while consequently stripping them of their most unique elements.
The movie starts off with a self-serious framing device that follows Josh Gad’s Mulch Diggums, a giant dwarf who looks a little too much like “Harry Potter’s” Hagrid, being captured by a secret government agency intent on finding Artemis Fowl (Colin Farrell), who is outed as a notorious thief of antiquities. The story then skips back in time to show Fowl being captured by a masked villain — the identity of which is never revealed, and instead used as a hook for a sequel that will never happen. It’s up to Fowl’s son, also named Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw), a petulant overly self-confident teeanger, to find a fairy artifact in order to free him. The movie breaks the cardinal rule of centering the narrative around a grating and annoying character.
Alongside the foul story of Fowl and Fowl, the movie reveals the existence of the fairy world — an advanced civilization of mythical creatures living near the earth’s core. It’s brought to life with poor CG and over-the-hill actors in bad costumes acting against green screens. Judi Dench, who deserves so much better than attempting her best Clint Eastwood voice, leads a fairy law enforcement squad, LEPrecon (yes, the puns write themselves) that includes Holly Short, the daughter of a disgraced officer who stole the missing artifact.
“Artemis Fowl” clocks in at around 100 minutes, a relatively short runtime for a movie that attempts to do so much world building. The movie quickly crumbles under the weight of its own ambition of trying to establish the fairy realm, trying to explain why they are in hiding, trying to explain their technology and trying to explain how the Fowls fit into everything, that it fails to explain any of it properly. Instead, much of the background and rules of the setting are explained in passing through bad exposition delivered by a horribly miscast Gad, who sounds like he has throat cancer from years of smoking.
The vast majority of the movie is taken up by a single battle between the younger Fowl and the LEPrecon that feels as aimless as it is pointless. It just seems to go on forever with relatively little action, but plenty of posturing from two sides that adhere to rules that everyone is in on — except the audience. The standoff at Fowl Manor is supposed to be epic — as the fairies race against time (literally) to rescue one of their own — but feels boring and anticlimactic. It ultimately ends with little consequence of note — a fitting summation of the entire movie.
From a narrative perspective, very little happens in “Artemis Fowl.” The movie feels like an extended pilot for a high-budget television show that was ultimately rejected for being disinteresting. Absolutely none of the plot points introduced are followed up on or resolved in any satisfactory manner. The movie spends its entire runtime trying to introduce the characters and the world — failing to even do that — and realizes time is running out, only to wrap everything up with a glorified “to be continued” moniker at the end.
“Artemis Fowl” belongs on the trash heap of failed young-adult adaptations alongside the likes of “Eragon” and “Divergent.” Not even the most diehard fans of Colfer’s series will derive much entertainment, as the movie strips so many of the interesting aspects of the characters — opting to completely remove the unique criminal mastermind element of Artemis Fowl, aside from another sequel-bait mention at the end. Instead, fans are left with a homogenized experience with little redeeming aspects of its own, beyond a few interesting action sequences and a production design with potential. None of that potential will ever be realized, as this foul movie will never see a sequel to elaborate on its countless dangling plot threads. The wings of “Artemis Fowl” were clipped long before it could fly.
“Artemis Fowl” is available now on Disney+.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.