Let’s be honest – adapting best-selling children’s books with huge fan bases is always a difficult feat. Take for example The Golden Compass, the Narnia series or the Percy Jackson films (surprisingly even the writer of those books took to Twitter to bash them recently). It’s not that they’re bad films per se, it’s more the fact that it’s so hard not to compare them to the source material, coupled with the weight of fan expectation, which often lead to box office disappointments. The live-action adaptation of the Eoin Colfer books has spent the better part of the last two decades in development hell, with a number of difficulties and delays along the way, not least the icy fan reception to the first trailer. So when Disney finally announced that the film would be heading straight to streaming service Disney+, alarm bells were ringing that this Irish fantasy movie would be destined for a similar outcome.
Following the suspicious disappearance of his father, 12-year-old genius Artemis Fowl learns the surprising truth; he’s a descendant of a long line of criminal masterminds. His family specialise in ‘collecting’ antiques and rarities from another world, collected to protect the artefacts magical secrets. But there’s one particularly elusive object Artemis must acquire to pay his father’s kidnapping ransom, the fairies’ most powerful and coveted magical device known as the Aculos. But to get his hands on this influential item, he must devise a dangerous plan and go head to head with the all-powerful fairies.
The fantasy adaptation starts off strong, opening with Josh Gad’s Mulch Diggums narrating events as part of an interrogation by the MI6. With beautifully sweeping vistas of Portrush and talk of ancient Irish folklore, magical fairy tales and legends, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was the next Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Featuring impressive World building, particularly as we explore the Aquaman-esque ancient but advanced world of fairies and their ‘time-paralysis’ powers, the film starts out as a fun, family adventure reminiscent of Spy Kids.
Unfortunately as soon as the two worlds meet, the story seemingly disappears, culminating in one overly long, action-packed CGI-fest with little substance. Artemis’ fathers abduction disappointedly plays of little consequence to the actual plot, with the shadowy villain proving unsubstantial, foregoing a satisfying ending to undoubtedly set up a sequel. Perhaps the distinct lack of villain could have been solved with an added extra 15 minutes to the brisk 90 minute runtime, as there were certainly parts missing from the trailer, or simply having Artemis as the main villain/anti-hero like in the books.
Newcomer Ferdia Shaw is a solid choice for the role, wonderfully transforming from an arrogant school kid to a surprisingly likeable blaster wielding mastermind. He shares a great on-screen chemistry with Nonso Anozie’s Domovoi Butler, who almost steals all of the scenes he’s in! Judi Dench’s accent hilariously appears to flit from each Celtic region at will, but it’s clear she’s having a real blast in the gender swapped Commander Root role. The real standout however is the wonderful Josh Gad, who should really be in everything! Like Beauty and the Beast, he brings the comedic elements to the film and particularly shines alongside Judi Dench. Unfortunately Colin Farrell is once again underused following fellow fantasy outing Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, allowing with Hong Chau’s Opal Koboi. And yes, there are significant changes to Artemis and Holly’s arcs from the book which I’m sure will be met with mixed response from the fans.
Belfast-born actor Sir Kenneth Branagh has wonderfully captured the Irish mythological underpinnings of the novel with stunning landscapes filmed near the White Rocks beach, remarkably coupled with Patrick Doyle’s enchanting score. The acclaimed composer of previous fantasies/fairytales such as Brave, Thor and Harry Potter perfectly adds to the fantastical elements. Overall the VFX and SFX were good, particularly bringing the different elements and creatures of the fairies world to life, with a distinct Harry Potter vibe. Their powers and manipulation of time also proved a fun addition, with an amusing Quicksilver-esque scene involving an attempt to extract a misplaced giant from a wedding!
A fun (but frustrating) family-friendly adventure, Artemis Fowl features enough potential and star power to establish a larger franchise.