Unfortunately for fans of the original series of books, no, it wasn’t.
On paper a film adaptation of Artemis Fowl by Irish author Eoin Colfer sounds like a no-brainer for a studio like Disney to premiere on their streaming service. A young protagonist for children to connect with, a slew of well-developed adult characters for parents to appreciate, and a multi-award winning narrative which has spanned numerous sequels and holds great franchise potential at the cinema. Why, then, has this adaptation missed the mark by such a massive margin?
The film follows the titular character Artemis Fowl, who is a twelve-year-old genius from Ireland and the latest in a long line of criminal masterminds in his family.
Right off the bat the film adaptation veers in a completely different direction to the source material by making him a ‘good guy’ who is doing what he must in order to save his father rather than an outright villain who goes on to learn the error of his ways and become a good guy. This might have been an acceptable detour from the source material if the events of the movie justified the change by offering a great cinematic experience full of heart, laughs, and enjoyable action…unfortunately, however, it does not.
Clocking in at just over an hour and a half in length, the film zips past the audience at the speed of sound and does not stop for a moment to let any of it sink in while rarely ever leaving Fowl Manor. Jumping from one scene to the next and from one conflict to another, a number of different plotlines and character arcs are smushed together and justice is done to none of them. To make matters worse, the old adage of “show, don’t tell” is flipped on its head so severely that we are told a great many things about our protagonist with little evidence to back it up, while other characters are literally reduced to stating their emotions out-loud for all to hear rather than showing them through their actions.
Another victim of the film’s criminally low runtime and fast pace is the sacrificing of virtually every relationship except for the one between Artemis and his father.
Supporting characters are introduced and then rarely heard from again, others are put in mortal peril for dramatic effect despite the audience knowing little to nothing about them, and members of the main cast go from arch enemies to best friends so quickly that you become tempted to rewind the film in case you missed a crucial scene, but no such scene existed in the first place. As for the villain of the film and the McGuffin they so desperately seek the less that is said the better, as fans of the books will be disappointed by their depiction and newcomers will just be left baffled as to what their motivations actually are.
The two saving graces of this adaptation are the performances themselves and the CGI. Ferdia Shaw gives a good performance as Artemis for his onscreen acting debut, and Lara McDonnell performs well as Holly despite her condensed character arc. Colin Farrell and Judi Dench are great additions to the cast as they usually are more often than not, and Josh Gad’s comic relief saves many scenes from being utterly forgettable. Criminally, we do not see enough of Tamara Smart or Nonso Anozie as Juliet and Domovoi Butler, respectively, to judge fairly. The special effects teams should be applauded for their work, making every fight scene, underworld fairy kingdom, and rampaging troll look stunning. One highlight of the film is a rarely-extended sequence involving a rogue troll terrorising an Italian wedding before a taskforce of fairies takes him down and wipes the guests’ memories, however we are soon returned to the disappointment that is the rest of the film.
All in all, it would be fair to say that this is far from director Kenneth Branagh’s finest work. How much of the blame lies on his shoulders, or on those of the screenwriters, or even on the studio itself, is difficult to discern. What is clear to see, however, is that the best advice for anyone intrigued by the film’s premise is to instead pick up the first book in the series and go from there. The slew of awards and legions of fans which the series of books can claim ownership of speaks for itself, and this ill-fated adaptation should not detract from that. With any luck an adaptation on the small screen will be commissioned to give the source material the love it deserves á la Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan, although ideally without a near-decade-long wait in-between.