With a movie titled Artemis Fowl being as bad as it is, one would expect the headline to be a play on the word “fowl,” but by the end of the 95-minute runtime, the only word you can think of is “why?”
Unceremoniously dumped onto Disney+ last Friday, Disney might have been doing us all a favour by not releasing this into cinemas. If cinema-goers were subjected to Judi Dench and Josh Gad doing Irish accents by way of Christian Bale’s Batman voice, there would have been mass hysteria akin to the other Judi Dench movie that we dare not speak of.
What saddens me about this adaptation is that it’s not like Artemis Fowl was a cheaply produced, rushed cash-in attempt, the movie has been in development hell for the best part of 20 years and has a budget well over the 100 million mark.
This is not the first time Disney+ has released an original movie to a less than stellar recaption. One of the all-time great Simpsons jokes is Homer designing a car for his half-brother, Herb. When the car is unveiled, it’s a lumbering, wildly uneconomical and baffling mess, and you can just watch that episode on Disney+ if you want to replicate the experience of watching Artemis Fowl. You too will be dropping to your knees in agony like Herb.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, a former Shakespearian wunderkind turned studio gun-for-hire, can frame and block a shot well, and to give the film some praise, all the money is up on the screen. With long-time collaborator Patrick Doyle, the score does a decent job of conveying the wonder and mysticism that is pointedly absent on screen.
Where the film falls apart is the script, which appears to have been written over the course of a lunch break.
Character motivations are introduced and never touched upon again, world-building and exposition is delivered through television broadcasts, and flashbacks are used to fill in character gaps. It’s the laziest, most perfunctory style of screenwriting.
While nit-picking the screenwriter in a film obstinately made for children might seem a bit harsh – this isn’t trying to be Parasite or The Irishman – on a fundamental level the script needs to work for the rest of the movie to work, or else it becomes a mess. And that’s before we get to the acting.
With Dame Judi Dench involved, you’d expect a bit of gravitas and class – she’s won an Oscar, a Tony and countless other acting awards – but instead you get a performance that has the energy of “I need to pay for a new driveway and kitchen.”
At the 45-minute mark, Dench’s commander character says “Top o’ the mornin’ to ya” as a one-liner and if there was ever a scene to sum up the horror show that is 2020, it’s that.
Colin Farrell is tuned in as always as Artemis’ dad, newcomers Ferdia Shaw and Lara McDonnell do good jobs as the titular Fowl and Holly Short, respectively, but the film is derailed any time Josh Gad is on screen. If you thought his shtick in every other Josh Gad movie was bad, wait until you get a load of this performance.
The framing device of this movie – Gad telling the story in media res to a police interrogator – is very obviously added in reshoots, and is inserted with all the grace and subtlety of wrecking ball.
Another saving grace was audiences being spared the horror of Josh Gad in dwarf make-up doing the Jonathan Demme-esque stare down the lens of the camera on a 20-foot-high screen. Coupled with his accent being Christian Bale doing an impression of Jack Black, it’s a truly baffling performance, and with any justice will lead to an Interpol investigation and subsequent trial at The Hague.
The films reported €110 million budget appears to have been invested in the cinematography and special effects, with some decent sets and dramatic aerial shots of the Giants Causeway, and to give the film the faintest bit of praise, the sequences where the ‘Time Freeze’ is deployed is impish fun, and capturing somewhat of the cheeky nature of Eoin Colfer’s original books. Those sequences do look the part, and are quite similar to the Quicksilver sequences from the X-Men movies, adding something of note to the film.
Sadly, the majority of the film’s budget, energy and goodwill seems to be all contained within those sequences, because outside of those brief respites, it’s all just relentless paint-by-numbers tripe.
There are worse things happening in the world right now, and getting miffed at a children’s fantasy film seems like a petty complaint, but when the film is as maddingly baffling as this, one must wonder is it too late to take up stamp collecting as a hobby as opposed to film.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.