The coronavirus changed the plans of just about every movie that was set for a theatrical release this year. Those that were supposed to arrive in the spring or summer were moved to fall, causing those in the fall to delay even further. Some were immediately moved to 2021 while others were sent to on-demand platforms, skipping theaters entirely. And then there's Disney's expensive adaptation of Artemis Fowl, which was moved from theaters to Disney+. At first, it seemed like a frustrating blow for a promising family adventure. After seeing the film, however, it feels more like a showing of mercy than anything else. It's hard to imagine that such an incoherent and boring affair was ever expected to succeed on the big screen.
Disney's adaptation of Eoin Colfer's beloved book series is directed by the usually steady Kenneth Branagh, and follows the origins of young Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) as he discovers the truth about his father's antique "trading" business. When his father (Colin Farrell) goes missing, Artemis learns of the secret world of fairies, magic, and world-destroying artifacts, and he must protect his secrets at all costs.
The source material of the Artemis Fowl novels offers plenty to work with, twisting sci-fi and fantasy elements into a story about a son trying to connect with his distant father through the journals he left behind. There's a great story hiding in there! But this adaptation places its focus solely on the hunt for a weapon that is never fully explained and a battle between Artemis and an army of fairies that don't really have any reason to fight in the first place.
So much of this film is devoted to just two major sequences, both of which do very little to advance the plot and could have been told over just a few minutes. The first shows the fairy army (led by a Judi Dench who really doesn't want to be there) invading Artemis' seaside house to rescue a captive, which is immediately followed by a fight with an enormous CGI troll throughout the mansion. The story, if there even is one, doesn't move in any way during these battles, but they take up the majority of the run time. It's like a boring version of Home Alone with imaginary stakes and a painful horde of bad effects.
Artemis Fowl is supposed to be a criminal mastermind, a fact that he states at the very end of the film as he marches down the hall in what's supposed to be a super cool use of slow motion. However, not a single minute of this movie is actually spent setting that up in any way. He reads and fights fairies until he locates a treasure that was in his own house to begin with. The idea of a child genius pulling off infamous heists is intriguing, but that idea doesn't ever make it to the screen.
"My name is Artemis Fowl, and I'm a criminal mastermind," isn't just a confusing line to end this film with, it's an infuriating lie.
The biggest issue with Artemis Fowl, besides maybe Josh Gad's ever-present Batman growl, is its insistence on setting up a story that it doesn't even tell. So much emphasis is placed on building up a magical world and hyping a mysterious masked villain, though neither one of those things ever actually matters. They simply exist, despite the insane amount of time and attention devoted to them. It's the definition of incoherent. If you can figure out what's happening from scene to scene, you deserve a treat. Branagh spends so much energy to setting up what's next that he never bothers to actually do anything with the story in front of him.
There's one good thing going on in Artemis Fowl, and his name is Colin Farrell. Unfortunately, he only gets a couple of minutes on the screen, which should be a punishable offense at this point.
Artemis Fowl is clearly for kids, but that's not a good enough excuse. Kids deserve better than this mess, and so do the adults who have to suffer through it with them. Artemis may think himself a criminal mastermind, but the only crime in this film is the film itself. Moving it to Disney+ might be the smartest decision the Mouse has made all year.
Rating: 1 out of 5
Artemis Fowl will premiere on Disney+ Friday, June 12th.