Artemis Fowl (2020)
★ / ★★★★
“I’m Artemis Fowl. And I’m a criminal mastermind,” declares the twelve-year-old at the end of the movie. I was stunned because although nearly ninety minutes had passed, we learned nothing of value about the titular character, such as why he’s interesting or why he’s worth following, nor do we learn how he became a criminal mastermind after one so-called adventure. I never read Eoin Colfer’s young adult fantasy novel of the same name, and this movie made me not want to.
The film suffers from basic screenplay and direction problems. Although the target audience is between six-year-olds to pre-teens, there is no reason for such lazy and reductive dialogue. It makes the mistake of assuming that kids are not smart enough to wade through subtleties and deep emotions; subplots and timing; intricacies and complex motivations. And so notice how lines are often descriptive, flat, expository. Take away the actors reading lines in their own unique ways and note how all the characters sound the same. For a story involving humans, fairies, dwarves, goblins, and trolls, there is a painful lack of imagination, drive, and entertainment. This is no replacement for the “Harry Potter” series.
The direction by Kenneth Branagh is rushed to the point where the story becomes nearly incomprehensible. There is a skeletal plot: Artemis Jr. (Ferdia Shaw) hopes to rescue his father (Colin Farrell) from an evil fairy (voiced by Hong Chau), but doing so requires retrieving an artifact called the Aculos, the fairies’ most powerful weapon, and exchanging the item for Artemis Sr. Conveniently, the good fairies have lost the Aculos. Commander Root (Judi Dench) leads the search party. Just by reading this description, you will have an idea of how things will unfold. I bet even you can come up with more creative ways to unfurl the plot. It offers no surprises, no thrills, no magic—it works as an anesthetic because by the end you feel nothing other than unadulterated boredom.
It is simply a showcase of special and visual effects, noise, and set decoration. I liked the palatial home of the Fowls. Inside is a feast for the eyes: a massive kitchen, a chic library, loads of stylish staircases, and Artemis Jr.’s bedroom is very modern yet still childlike. I enjoyed that the mansion has its own lighthouse. I wanted to visit to look through books and curious collectibles, sunbathe and surf, examine plants and bugs around the vicinity. I didn’t care for how the fairies looked, how they moved or flew, or how pointy their ears looked. The “giant” dwarf (Josh Gad—who also provides irritating narration) is obviously a nod to Hagrid from the “Harry Potter” franchise only without the charm. And speaking of “Harry Potter,” the troll in “Sorcerer’s Stone,” which was released in 2001, looks so much more enchanting than it does here. The troll therein causes all sorts of chaos and destruction, but it has no personality.
By the end of the of picture, Artemis Jr. has formed a team composed of six individuals. Of course, it promises a sequel. But a big problem: Take any one character and choose another—these two have not shared one convincing moment in which the two find commonalities and connect in a meaningful way. The writing and direction are so busy and rushed that character development is not even a footnote. The work is such a miscalculation that it even has the bravado to show a death only to bring that character back to life after a few seconds. Then a joke is made about playing with the viewers’ emotions. I just found it to be sick and disgusting. This project should have been aborted because there is nothing worth following through here.