Artemis Fowl

 

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Disney’s attempt to launch a new fantasy franchise is frustrated by closed cinemas and corporate back-peddling.

   

Artemis Fowl  

"This place needs fairies": Judi Dench as Commander Root

 

Life can be so cruel. Artemis Fowl, based on the best-selling, eight-novel series by Eoin Colfer, was meant to be Walt Disney’s answer to Harry Potter. Colfer’s literary franchise boasted a parallel fantasy world, engaging teenage protagonists, all sorts of fabulous creatures and an eternal struggle between good and evil. For its first episode, Disney ploughed $125 million into the production, eschewing star names so as to focus on a CGI-enhanced, visual banquet. It was the ultimate big-screen extravaganza, filmed in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Italy and Vietnam. And then the pandemic happened. The theatrical release date, May 29, was scrapped in favour of a direct-to-streaming launch in June. Don’t expect to see any sequels anytime soon.

 

However, Disney’s problems began long before any virus nudged its way over the Chinese border. The original theatrical release date had already been put back nine months to accommodate re-shoots and narrative tinkering, a last-ditch offensive that has done little to salvage the film’s misdirection. The finished product is not without distinction – it looks fabulous – and there are some good turns from the younger members of the cast, particularly Lara McDonnell as a bright-eyed, airborne pixie. But while some of the dialogue is funny, much of its sticks in the actors’ throats. When Judi Dench, as an 802-year-old fairy, turns up in Ireland to do business, she announces “Top of the morning” to deadening effect. Minutes later, when she introduces herself with the immortal, “I am Commander Root,” memories of her doomed collaboration on the Vin Diesel-produced The Chronicles of Riddick come flooding back. At least Vin Diesel survived to utter his own, more fondly remembered catchphrase, “I am Groot.”

 

For what it’s worth, this is the story of a smug, know-it-all 12-year-old, Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw, grandson of Robert Shaw), who lives in one of the most luxurious, imposing homes in all of Ireland, complete with his own valet and bodyguard (Nonso Anozie). He is an insufferable brat who thinks he knows everything and even gives a damning appraisal of the school doctor’s beloved antique leather chair, noting that its “furniture tacks are machine-tooled. Makes it 1890s at the earliest.” He also cloned a goat at the age of ten – and called it Bruce. In fact, Arty is so bright that when his father (Colin Farrell) goes missing, in just a matter of minutes he manages to locate the man’s hidden journal in his cluttered, underground laboratory-cum-library. And Arty didn’t even know the secret room existed.

 

However, for a film featuring fairies, trolls, elves, goblins and dwarfs, not to mention a high-tech city in a parallel realm, credibility is hardly its raison d'être. The film’s problem, besides its insufferable protagonist, is that much of it is so completely naff. The tacked-on comedy feels desperate and when our narrator, a really, really big dwarf played by Josh Gad, offers a decent line of dialogue, it gets lost in the shambles. One senses the director, none other than Kenneth Branagh, frantically tweaking the creative knobs at his disposal, while the rest of the ship sinks in a corporate morass. There’s way too much music and CGI, which smothers the real charm generated by the child actors, to whom the film should really belong. For fantasy to cast any kind of spell, it needs a human sounding board off which to bounce.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, Tamara Smart, Nonso Anozie, Josh McGuire, Colin Farrell, Judi Dench, Nikesh Patel, Adrian Scarborough, Charlie Cameron, Gerard Horan, Gavin Esler, Jimmy Yuill, Salome Cosgrove.

 

Dir Kenneth Branagh, Pro Kenneth Branagh and Judy Hofflund, Screenplay Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl, Ph Haris Zambarloukos, Pro Des Jim Clay, Ed Matthew Tucker, Music Patrick Doyle, Costumes Sammy Sheldon Differ.

 

Walt Disney Pictures/TriBeCa Productions/Marzano Films-Disney+.

95 mins. USA. 2020. Rel: 12 June 2020. Available exclusively on Disney+. Cert. PG.