How not to build an urban fantasy world in ninety-five minutes or less.
On the coast of Ireland lies Fowl Manor, an eclectic mansion built onto a seaside lighthouse with its own Gaelic circle of stones, so it’s clearly important. It is the residence of overachieving twelve-year old “criminal” mastermind Artemis Fowl II (Ferdia Shaw) and his father Artemis Fowl Sr. (Colin Farrell). After a shadowy figure kidnaps dear ol’ dad, the world media inexplicably appears outside the mansion, investigating revelations that the elder Fowl is responsible for the theft of old world antiquities… hinting that legends of fairies, goblins, and trolls are more than just bedtime stories. Rapidly introducing throwaway characters, magic-infused technology, and heavily narrated info-dump montages, Artemis must save the day by finding the fantasy mcguffin device using as many single-locale set pieces as the production design could afford… instead of hiring a script doctor to make any sense of it.
The original teaser trailer that suggested an August 2019 release date did a fair job of doing just that: teasing possibilities. When the film quietly missed that launch date for May 2020 plus new trailer footage with Colin Farrell, the delay didn’t appear to do the production any favors. It looks worse becoming more complete, and with many theaters still closed due to the pandemic, the studio took a cue from Sony and Warner Bros. to unload their family friendly fare onto their streaming service Disney Plus. While we’re all still waiting for promised MCU programs and the second season of “The Baby Yoda Show,” can the Kenneth Branagh-directed YA flick gather up enough fans to green-light a sequel?
“Artemis Fowl” is an eight-novel fantasy series written by Irish author Eoin Colfer, young adult fare with ideas clever enough to attract a solid fanbase… so why was the film such a derivative mess? There’s a Doctor Doom vibe herein, old-world once-magical antiques fortified with super-science technology; unfortunately, the production can’t seem bothered to be with easing audiences into this new world, speeding things along faster than the similarly abbreviated Robert Downey Jr. vehicle Dolittle. And is the fantasy underworld run by the fairy military complex to keep order? There are far too many mysteries and not nearly enough answers, sequel-fodder which sadly appears to be the point.
The word “subtlety” is nowhere to be found. The three-tiered beach invasion of Fowl Manor looks like an Anime cosplay convention recreating Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. Then there’s fairies using Men in Black tech battling humans who dress like Men in Black. This doesn’t even address the mismatched and uneven plot points where some characters have to travel from “the center of the earth” in cast-iron lava-tube launchers while others seem to travel thousands of miles in mere minutes… not to mention the high-tech soldiers with heads-up displays in leprechaun uniforms when all their helmet-cams could be easily integrated into a single contact lens — given to a rogue dwarf operative. On-screen characters appear and disappear on a whim, evidence of the hack job done to cobble together a viewable cut in lieu of re-shoots or putting back whatever was left on the cutting room floor. Between this and Cats, one must feel sorry that Dame Judy Dench keeps getting talked into these turkeys.
Josh Gad and Judy Dench chewing scenery with their silliness-be-damned attitudes still can’t save the final cut, while Lara McDonnell’s determined Holly Short is the closest the film comes to a fully imagined character. Any goodwill done by the ensemble cast is undermined by too little individual screen time, generic character introductions, dubious insta-friendships, and bad guys from ancient worlds uttering ridiculous lines like “Guess what?” A story this complex and genre-bending needed far more time and effort committed to it, like the Netflix series “Locke & Key,” episodic mysteries that allow time to build on wild conceptualization rather than bashing open a story pinata with plot points spilling out of its belly. At one point, the fairies express dismay that humans no longer took them seriously; wait until they find out the Artemis Fowl movie hasn’t done them any favors.
Artemis Fowl is rated PG for fantasy action/peril, some rude humor, and Hellboy will accept your apologies now.
One skull recommendation out four