Back in the 2010s, Young Adult novel adaptations riddled big-screen marketplaces, with studios placing their bets on the next trendy franchise. Instead of creating the Twilight or Harry Potter, failed endeavors such as The Host and Mortal Instruments exemplified the challenge in establishing a zeitgeist property, released amidst a flurry of franchise-starters that also crashed upon entry. After a languid journey to the big screen, Disney has dumped their latest YA port Artemis Fowl onto their streaming service Disney+, a deservingly unceremonious release for the latest lackluster YA adaptation.
Based on Eoin Colfer’s novel series, Artemis Fowl follows Artemis (Ferdia Shaw) a young prodigy learning the relic-collecting family craft from his distant father (Colin Farrell). When his father is kidnapped, Artemis discovers a new world of magic creatures, including an eager fairy soldier Holly Short (Lara McDonnell), and a dwarf who doesn’t fit in with his much-smaller counterparts Mulch Diggum (Josh Gad). These three outcasts must work together to save the day.
Artemis Fowl may not be an outright disaster, mainly thanks to Kenneth Branagh’s zippy and generally competent direction, but its joyless pursuit of slick thrills robs the endeavor of any unique pleasures. Sandwiching the series’ first two works into one briskly paced film (88 minutes before credits), screenwriters Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl are assigned the impossible task of constructing the franchise’s first act in a limited number of frames.
Even considering those restrictions, a barebones screenplay wastes the creative playground Eoin Colfer’s words created. The narrative leans heavily on fantasy lore to do the leg work in establishing its different factions, doing little on its own accord to personify each unique race. Before any impactful world-building is even accomplished, McPherson and McColl’s script whisks audiences along without creating a genuine reason to invest.
With little to work with, Artemis Fowl places substantial weight on its cast to liven up the proceedings. Character actors Judi Dench and Josh Gad are up for the task (Gad dedicates himself fully to his goofy role as a misplaced dwarf), but the young stars rarely feel comfortable onscreen. Ferdia Shaw’s flat performance as Artemis rarely captures the character’s quick-witted intellect, while Lara McDonnell is given nothing to do aside from being a chipper presence as Holly. Veteran stalwarts Colin Farrell and Nonso Anozie are left dully watching from the sidelines, with no one involved appearing to have much fun with the material.
It’s hard to blame anyone on screen, as they are stuck in a sinking ship from the start. Ignoring the novel’s meditations on morality (Artemis’ journey from mean-spirited brat to finding a sense of good is completely ignored), the Disney production instead focuses on checking boxes to appease family audiences. This clinical approach is devoid of heart and inventive spark, with both being necessary ingredients in creating a new franchise.
Closing with a cliffhanger that will leave most shrugging, Artemis Fowl’s creatively-bankrupt delivery wastes the potential Eoin Colfer’s work has on the screen.
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