While one could easily question the directorial talents of actor turned filmmaker, Kenneth Branagh, it would perhaps be a stretch to call him either talentless or even bad. Through movies like Murder on the Orient Express, and even the original Thor, he's garnered an overall mixed-to-positive response from critics and fans alike.
Just how he ended up giving us Artemis Fowl is then, a bit beyond me. In fact, it's bizarre how anyone, and by anyone I mean Disney executives, producers, even celebrated theatre playwright Conor McPherson, who wrote the script, could take one look at the long-awaited movie adaptation of Eoin Colfer's classic novel, and sleep well the following night.
To be clear, there are a lot worse movies than Artemis Fowl, but few movies have the sheer gall and misplaced arrogance to think it's so incredibly well and cleverly put together, while at the same time appearing so off-putting, and ultimately pointless.
Let's take a step back here. So the movie is about the titular character, Artemis Fowl, played by newcomer Ferdia Shaw, a 12-year old kid raised by his millionaire antiquity dealing dad of the same name, played by Colin Farrell. When he goes missing, Artemis Junior sets out on a journey of self-discovery, and the literal discovery of a hidden world filled with fairies and trolls, and his journey takes him through mythical forests and super high-tech underground cities.
If you've read Colfer's novel, you'll know that Artemis Fowl is a tongue-in-cheek young-adult fantasy universe that has way more to offer than most other novels in that particular genre, but really, none of that translates to this jumbled mess. First off, performances here are all over the place, ranging from strangely distant, as if Colin Farrell kind of knew that this would be one of those gigs that you just forget afterwards, to the downright offensively poor, as is the case with most scenes where Artemis himself interacts with fairy Holly Short, played by Lara McDonnell. While it may sound harsh, the children themselves are rarely, if ever, believable in both their scepticism and fear, but more importantly in their naivety and positive outlook. Every line is recited, wooden and unrelatable, and when most of the plot centres around these youngsters getting to grips with their abilities, their limitations, and ultimately their responsibilities, it's hardly adequate to see such middling performances here.
Sure, Dame Judi Dench buys into the clichés and delivers a memorably dedicated performance as a tough-as-nails police chief, but it's really not enough. Worst of all though, Artemis is downright unlikeable. Now, it's something that Colfer herself juggles with admirable flair in the novels, where you get ample time to get attached to his inherent belief in his own ability, but here, all we get to see is a spoiled, intelligent brat who wants his dad back, and who doesn't care who he needs to offend, destroy, or look smugly at. While Ferdia Shaw's lack of charm is one problem, it's not the problem - the problem is that the movie moves at breakneck speed, stuffing the viewer's mouth with pointless exposition while forgetting to make any of its characters relatable or understandable.
And that's not even an exaggeration - it's downright difficult to keep pace with all the information that's being shovelled down our throats from the first minute through until the end credits roll. Where some movies based on rich lore get around this by clinging to a simpler story, Artemis Fowl is intent on teaching us everything that this world has to offer. That quickly means that each and every line of dialogue contains some exposition, to the point where there are interposed phrases containing seemingly unimportant information every time a character opens their mouth. Even at this rocket pace the movie even struggles to keep up with itself, cobbling together loose connections, and forging odd parallels. It means that after around 15 minutes, there are no mysteries left, there is no stone left unturned, and no questions left for the audience to ask - just explanations and pointless, meaningless context.
But it wouldn't be the first time you've seen a pretty mediocre narrative, but with flashy effects and beautiful shots, right? That's Avatar all over again, isn't it? No, because Artemis Fowl can't even get pointless flair right, and it seems Branagh focused too much on direct, unsteady and jiggly combat scenes, and even these are confusing and look cobbled together, and certainly not like they were from a film costing a whopping $125 million to make. Even the visual effects work is uneven, and really, once that goes out of the window, what are you left with?
Eoin Colfer's novel deserves more than this. It deserved a better director, a better script, better effects, and overall just more time. It deserves more thoughtful exposition, better dialogue, more believable characters, a sense of mystery and grandeur, and while those qualities are all contained within the book, none of them are present here. Artemis Fowl is one of the most notable high-profile failures of the last decade and it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Cats. It's that bad.