When I die, I will only have one final wish – under no circumstances can Josh Gad give the eulogy. In Artemis Fowl, Josh Gad (playing a dwarf named Mulch Diggins) narrates the story of young Artemis’ rise to infamy. What should be a simple plot device to provide exposition turns into an unpleasant experience, as Gad’s raspy voice performs a root canal on our eardrums.
At one point, Diggins mentions how the titular character was taught by his father about “the leprechauns, and the banshees, and the sprites” while we see Artemis is on screen, reading book chapters on the leprechauns, and the banshees, and the sprites. What is the point of film being a visual medium, if you’re just going to literally state through narration what we can already plainly see with our two eyes? I’d rather you just give a wall of text at the beginning of the movie to explain the plot. Or, you can just throw the script at my head, that would somehow be a more desirable fate.
For the uninitiated, the film is based on a series of YA novels that the movie stubbornly refuses to adapt accurately. In the film, Artemis Fowl II (Ferdia Shaw) is a 12-year-old genius with a superiority complex rivaled only by Stewie Griffin and Dexter McPherson. He lives a privileged life under his wealthy father, Artemis Fowl I (Colin Farrell).
Farrell, ever the innovator, is attempting a never-heard-on-screen-before accent, that seems to be some type of British/Irish/American hybrid, thrown into a blender. He will literally begin a word in one accent, and end that same word in a completely different accent. This is an act I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed before, and must qualify for some type of Special Achievement Academy Award.
The senior Artemis is a distant dad, selling his son on stories of fairies and magic, and grand adventures, but refusing to bring his son along with him on said adventures. But when his dad is kidnapped under mysterious circumstances, Artemis II sets out to rescue him. Meanwhile, a secret society of fairies, led by Julius Root (Judi Dench), also set their sights on the senior Artemis. They believe that he, a known thief, has stolen a device known as the Aculos, which in the wrong hands could reveal to the world the secrets of magic and their society.
The plot turns into a race against time, as Artemis II investigates the whereabouts of the Aculos, while the fairies send officer Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) to find and retrieve the device. Short is the best character and best part of the film, as her scenes allow the story to let loose with great set pieces. For a brief moment, the movie abandons the non-stop exposition for a terrific scene where Short saves a group of people from a giant troll. The scene might as well be from another movie considering how much it sticks out from the rest of this frustrating production. You get the sense, from this scene, that director Kenneth Branaugh wanted to foster a thrilling action epic. But everything is so bogged down in information because Branaugh and the screenwriters did not figure out how to tell this story efficiently.
The story isn’t framed properly, insisting on establishing Artemis II as a cool character instead of doing the work needed to make this fictional world accessible. It’s less time consuming to explain who a character is than it is to depict a brand-new world, so establish the world first, then delve into the characters; unless the Lord of the Rings trilogy has taught us nothing. Branaugh wastes the film’s narrative device to explain who Artmeis II is, when that could have been accomplished in two minutes without Josh Gad verbally dousing the entire film in lighter fluid. Then, Branaugh plays catch up for the rest of the film in regards to the exposition needed to explain the world we’re being introduced to. Our introduction to Artemis II begins like this is some simple John Hughes type film, with “cute” scenes where Artemis II snobbishly displays his intelligence, instead of using the runtime economically.
But the problems don’t stop there. The film’s coverage is bizarre, and the editing is at times poor. Characters are introduced before it’s actually their time in the plot to do something interesting.
The movie doesn’t have the satirical bent nor the believable earnestness to sell the sillier aspects of the story, and the humor (mostly delivered by Gad) is painfully unfunny with a few exceptions. This is essentially what the original Star Wars would look like if George Lucas didn’t establish tone – it would be cheesy, nonsensical, and lacking our investment.
The film insists on giving Gad and Dench weird voices – why can’t these actors just talk normally? You may feel like these voices are important for the characterizations, but they’re just silly and distracting. Either get better sound design, or just let the actors talk naturally. Judy Dench is a world-class actor, she doesn’t need help displaying intimidation.
The film is mercifully only 95 minutes long, but the final act feels so rushed as if the movie is playing on fast forward. The movie tries to convince us that two characters are now the best of friends, even though they met that day and have had like 3 conversations together. It seems like the script was a mess, and so was the post-production process. This is a film that looks hacked to the bone to accommodate a short runtime, despite adapting a book with a LOT of mythology. It cheapens the entire property, and calls into question why Disney believed this was a property worth adapting if they’re just going to do this to it?
It’s a shame because there’s potential in this world, but this hack-job of a film will ensure there is no sequels. It’s disappointing to see a unique property get manufactured into a rambling mess that’s searching for an identity. Artemis Fowl doesn’t know if it wants to be James Bond, Lord of the Rings, Spy Kids, or Harry Potter. Disney just hopes your brain associates it with one of those things, and tricks you into enjoying the movie. How strangely poetic, a movie about the smartest kid alive seems to only be interested in insulting your intelligence.