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Review: Disney's lifeless and messy adaptation ‘Artemis Fowl’ runs amok

Courtesy of Disney


Looking to cash in on one of the most popular YA franchises of the 21st century, “Artemis Fowl” – directed with zero style by Kenneth Branagh – hopes to offer the escapism you’d capture from a theatrical experience, but streaming is what will have to suffice for now. Originally slated to be released in the dog days of summer 2019, Disney shifted its release plan for “Fowl” and threw it at the tail end of May (a slot usually reserved for commercial duds ala “Tomorrowland” or “Alice Through The Looking Glass”) but not even a global pandemic could save us. Nope, “Fowl” has landed on Disney+ and considering its big-budget and “Harry Potter” appeal, you might be inclined to check it out, though, I’d heavily advise against it.

This movie is a colossal waste of time.

The first whiff of trouble arrives with a Josh Gad voice-over (the one troupe I can’t stand in movies is the obligatory voice over that explains literally everything happening in front of you). Gad plays a “giant dwarf” – wrap your head around that one – a low-level criminal about to go away for life unless he spills the beans on the Fowl empire. Cut to a shot of young Artemis Jr (Freida Shaw – poor kid) catching some waves at his estate somewhere in Ireland. Side note: surfing is never mentioned after this opening sequence.

“Artemis Fowl” has enough content to fill three seasons of a Netflix show whereas the book series – of which your tolerance for this movie depends on your affection of the Eoin Colfer novels – took eight stories to flesh out the entire lore and mythology of the characters. Branagh and Disney try to do it in 95 minutes.

So, if you decide that after twenty minutes to stick with the choice you’ve made, here’s some other tidbits that go down: Artemis Fowl lives in a universe where humans and fairies co-exist. Thousands of years ago, fairies were forced to colonize in an underground world called Haven City, and now one of those angsty creatures – pissed at their fairy oppression - has decided to kidnap Artemis’s dad (Colin Farrell because you can’t make a film set in Ireland without him) and the ransom is one giant MacGuffin called The Aculos, which – of course – is the most important object in this tiny fairy kingdom.

As for Gad, he plays Mulch Diggum – trying to pull off that Hagrid look - who gulps down mouthfuls of dirt, likes to sing Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is,” and speaks as though he’s got razors in his throat. Why he talks and behaves like this can only be summed up by saying it's 2020 and many crazy things that have happened this year can’t be explained or justified. Why he was chosen as the omniscient narrator trying to piece together this mishap of a film is probably because the filmmakers – when given an extra nine months of post-production – decided to reshape the film and needed Gad to carry the load. All his terribly choppy voice overs feel like an afterthought, and that’s not even the most annoying thing “Artemis Fowl” has going for it.

What’s most frustrating is that at 95 minutes, “Artemis Fowl” tries to cover a lot of ground and hearing Diggum speaking about certain characters and plotlines, you rewind the movie only to discover you didn’t miss an important plot point, it was just never explained. And can someone tell me how a 95-minute film is actually three hours? Weird.

And then there’s the curious case of Judi Dench, playing an 804-year-old fairy general whose signature line “top of the morning” earns a big laugh for all the wrong reasons. You wonder what compelled Dench to throw her name into something like this? Though it’s a step-up from the green-screen fiasco of “Cats,” someone needs to have a chat with Dench’s agent, or just fire them altogether.

But the most annoying and insulting aspect of “Artemis Fowl” – after we plow through a finale with an oversized CGI troll destroying a beautiful countryside estate – is how this was all set-up for a sequel. WHAT?! As if anyone, after being lobotomized for the worse half of two hours, could stomach revisiting this world for a second go around?!

But it’s 2020 and crazier things have happened. You live your life.

Grade: D-

ARTEMIS FOWL is now streaming on Disney+


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