Looking to maintain their dominance of the global box office, Disney has gone into the “Harry Potter” business with “Artemis Fowl,” another popular YA series featuring a dynamic male protagonist traipsing about a magical world with a group of eccentrics at his side. What with eight books in author Eoin Colfer’s series, the plan was to adapt each of them to the big screen and hopefully recreate a little bit of the “Potter” magic — you know, big, big box office.
Thankfully, that plan will not come to fruition as director Kenneth Branagh’s initial foray into this world of Irish magic and espionage is a complete disaster. Except for the impressive visual effects, this is a complete misfire from beginning to end, a movie that reeks of desperation as all involved are well-aware of the intent of this enterprise, know what is at stake and are keenly aware they are falling short of creating anything remotely as well-done as the “Potter” films. Frankly, it’s not as good as the “Divergent” movies or even other failed entries in what were to be lucrative, multi-part franchises. (Remember “The Mortal Bones?” How about “Beautiful Creatures?” Anyone? Anyone?)
Initially slated for theatrical release during the Memorial Day weekend, the Mouse House decided to shuttle the film to their new Disney+ streaming service rather than reschedule it for a future widescreen release. Upon seeing this disaster, it’s easy to see why. Branagh throws one familiar element after another at the audience at such a frantic pace that very soon confusion rather than curiosity overtakes the viewer. Artemis Fowl Jr. (Ferdia Shaw) is a genius among geniuses, having cloned a sheep at age 9 and being commissioned to design a cathedral at age 10. He has no problem putting people who can’t quite keep up with him in their place and only seems to have respect for his father, Artemis Sr. (Colin Farrell) and his assistant, Domovoi (Nonso Anozie). When his father, who makes a very, very, very good living acquiring antiques, goes missing, the young man must use all of his family’s vast resources to find an object called the Oculus, the McGuffin the abductors require for his release.
So far, not so good as all of this occurs at a whiplash-inducing pace. The “Potter” films took their time and were conscious of creating a sense of wonder regarding the characters and their magical world. The approach here is one of expediency — dispense with these all-too-familiar plot points as quickly as possible, cue the overblown action scenes to distract from the familiarity of the story and move on.
And then there’s the issue of Judi Dench as the leader of the land of the fairies ... yes, you read that correctly. The Oscar winner obviously let her friendship with Branagh cloud her judgment on this one as she appears decked out from head-to-toe in green leather, barks out her dialogue with a rasp you’d associate with a three-pack-a-day smoker and tries to go all Schwarzenegger at one point by saying “Top of the mornin’!” in a militaristic, dramatic fashion that falls woefully flat. This casting and her approach is so misguided it has to be seen to be believed.
“Artemis Fowl” is the sort of movie that kills careers and as such, it’s likely Shaw will follow in the footsteps of poor Jake Lloyd from “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.” It’s not the actor’s fault he has the charisma of a fence post — it’s Branagh’s for not recognizing this or finding a way to get him to act. Unfortunately, much of the blame for this failure will fall on his shoulders, an unjustifiable notion to be sure. No, there’s plenty of blame to go around where this disastrous non-starter is concerned.
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