Watching Artemis Fowl feels like hopping into a time machine and going back to 2007. The movie, based on Eoin Colfer's book series, is a mishmash of cliches from all the YA adaptations that were popular around that time. Those things are, by now, completely played out, leaving this long-delayed Disney adventure feeling stale, especially since it makes no attempt whatsoever to do anything new with them. Worse, the movie plays as though it's setting up a bunch of sequels that I sincerely doubt will ever come to fruition.
Ferdia Shaw plays the title character, an annoyingly smug child prodigy whose father (Colin Farrell) is a master thief. When Artemis, Sr. is kidnapped by an evil force, his son sets out to find him. The key to doing so will be locating the requisite magical object that has the power to – you guessed it – open doors between dimensions. (That's a common MacGuffin in these pictures.) For assistance, Artemis recruits members of other worlds his father has taught him about, specifically a fairy named Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) and, later, a giant dwarf named Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad). That's right, a giant dwarf. Such is the level of the story's humor
Judi Dench is here, too, playing Root, Holly's commanding officer in a fairy police force known as LEPrecon. Every time she came onscreen, with her pointy Spock-like fairy ears and emerald green uniform, I felt bad for her. Only a few months ago we saw this fine actress saddled with one of those ridiculous feline costumes in Cats, and now she's trapped in this get-up. Dench has either reached a stage in her career where she'll take anything for a paycheck or she needs a new agent.
For a movie that clearly wants to launch a franchise, Artemis Fowl does a stunningly poor job setting up its characters and scenarios. Artemis, Sr. goes missing a few minutes into the story, so precious little time is spent establishing his relationship with his son. The LEPrecon seems like a clever idea, yet we get virtually no explanation of how it operates or what its function is. At one point, a young girl named Juliet (Tamara Smart) enters the story. She's described as the niece of Artemis's appropriately-named butler Butler (Nonso Anozie), but she serves absolutely zero purpose, making her inclusion utterly incomprehensible. The villain, meanwhile, is a shadowy figure we know nothing about, meaning no suspense is generated from his diabolical plan.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, Artemis Fowl has a fair number of action sequences that it plows through, with hardly a dose of imagination. A giant creature smashing walls inside a house? Fairies in an aerial assault? We've seen stuff like this in other YA pictures. Seeing it trotted back out proves dispiriting. Once again, the feeling that this movie belongs in another time is pervasive. It seems old-fashioned at this point.
The visual effects are well-done, and one or two lines of dialogue elicit a chuckle. Artemis Fowl fails beyond that, though. I have to wonder if it was heavily-edited during its year-long delay in release, due to how shockingly thin the story and characters are. Whatever happened, the result is destined to bore children and adults alike.
out of four
Artemis Fowl is rated PG for fantasy action/peril and some rude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.