Something smells… fowl on Disney+, guys. Yuk yuk! Yes, that is a terrible pun, but I have a feeling that fans of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl book series will probably get more enjoyment from that dumb joke than Disney’s live-action feature film adaptation. That appears to be the consensus from the first wave of reviews that have dropped for the movie which debuts on Disney+ today.
Originally, the Kenneth Branagh-directed fantasy adventure film was supposed to get a standard theatrical debut at the end of last month, but COVID-19 had other ideas. Unlike Disney’s other big releases that were just delayed to later in the year as a result of the pandemic, the House of Mouse made the unexpected move of shunting Artemis Fowl straight to Disney+… and that may have been a good thing because based on how reviewers are actively disliking this film, it may well have been a gigantic, very visible box office flop.
Of course, dislike for Artemis Fowl was almost immediate from the fan base after the film’s first trailer revealed huge deviations from the source material. Most notably, that instead of the asshole-ish, sorta-kinda-the-bad-guy protagonist we have in the 12-year criminal genius Artemis Fowl, Disney has gone and, well, Disney-fied him, stripping away everything that made the antihero unique. They’ve also added several characters and plot lines to give the story a more wholesome family-oriented vibe… which totally doesn’t work and reportedly comes off super-generic and boring. And none of this is helped by the fact that outside of Colin Farrell as Artemis’ father, very few people have nice things to say about the acting, most of which is done by big screen newcomers like titular lead Fedia Shaw. And for a movie that cost $125 million to make, it apparently also has really bad visual effects, just to add insult to injury.
Here are some choice quotes from the reviews:
AV Club – Roxana Hadadi
The words “Artemis Fowl” make up a significant chunk of the dialogue in Artemis Fowl. The title character, a child criminal mastermind introduced in a series of YA fantasy novels by Irish author Eoin Colfer, has few defining traits beyond how often everyone refers to him by his full name. Under Kenneth Branagh’s featureless direction, he’s just a bratty, self-involved heir. And the only interesting thing about this irritatingly smug and cheaply campy adaptation is how uninterested it is in its own source material. Artemis Fowl, the first Disney movie to have its theatrical release completely scrapped because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is bland and incoherent, with paper-thin character development, unimaginative world building, and a lot of daddy issues.
The Globe and Mail – Barry Hertz
The plot doesn’t so much unfold as it is dumped onto audiences, with every character taking pains to explain away the CGI chaos that zips by on-screen. Set-pieces come and go with little flair and zero emotional impact. The central villain remains a shadowy cipher throughout, as does the Fowl family. And the performances oscillate between dull and distracted. Even Branagh’s old friend Judi Dench, cast as the commander of an elf police force, seems like she would rather be anywhere else, even on the set of Tom Hooper’s Cats.
/Film – Hoai-Tran Bui
The rest of the performances are bad across the board. I can’t fault newcomers Shaw and McDonnell too much; they perform to the best of their abilities as child actors, and McDonnell does show some potential as the rogueish, idealistic Holly Short. Poor Shaw, however, is too stiff and awkward for all the intense close-ups Branagh gives him and the intellectual Sherlockian dialogue he has to rattle off. He comes off as a precocious brat rather than a child genius, but it’s more the fault of Mcpherson and McColl’s wooden script, which possesses none of the silly cheekiness of Colfer’s original dialogue.
I tried desperately to keep my expectations for an Artemis Fowl movie low. Just because a movie isn’t a shot-for-shot adaptation of its source material doesn’t mean it’s inherently bad, I kept telling myself, as my hopes sank lower and lower through the film. But Artemis Fowl is not just a disappointing adaptation, it’s a badly made movie. Its Frankensteined plot and its shockingly poor CGI — which could have passed in an early 2000s movie, but not in 2020 — leave it no redeeming qualities.
Empire – Helen O’Hara
But the real problem here is that the script, based on the first two books, shows signs of having been cut to ribbons and woven back together. Newcomer Shaw’s Artemis seems virtually immobile for much of the running time, communicating less cunning and more a sense that he’s not sure what to do. Tamara Smart, as his friend and Domovoi’s niece Juliet, has nothing to play with; her biggest scene involves delivering Artemis a sandwich. In contrast, Holly is given a whole heap of distracting backstory about her disgraced father that adds a good ten minutes to the interminable exposition that is the film’s first half, laid out by Josh Gad’s Mulch Diggums, a giant dwarf whose interrogation by an unseen British Intelligence officer (for some reason) in an off-shore detention centre frames the tale.
Den of Geek – Rosie Fletcher
Fowl is played as smart and precocious – a bit smug, sure – but a criminal mastermind? Er no. Shaw does his best but his Fowl is a vulnerable youngster with a dead mum who just wants to spend time with his father, and it doesn’t really work. Even with no prior knowledge of the novels, Shaw isn’t cocky or charismatic enough to carry the movie and his co-stars – the supernatural ones at least – constantly outshine him.
As enjoyable escapism Artemis Fowl whips by in a buzz of color, magic, and spectacle, which might be just what you need during lockdown. But don’t expect this to kick off a major new franchise – it’s a fairy tale that’s had its wings clipped.
Scrubbed, sanitized and neutered of its edgier elements, “Artemis Fowl” the movie likely will be unrecognizable to the books’ many fans. Gone are the hardboiled dialogue, anarchist wit and psychopathic avarice of the protagonist. Heck, he’s not even a villain or antihero anymore, just another superkid trying to rescue his father.
This is not a “but the book was better” argument. It’s simply that by abandoning the original character and cobbling together broken story shards and spare parts, Branagh and company have produced something off an assembly line: safe, generic and utterly disposable.
But this big-budget fantasy adventure from Disney is busy and exhausting. The change of plans from a theatrical release to a Disney+ streaming premiere will guarantee an audience. But how many of the uninitiated will stick with it through the onslaught of hastily drawn characters and unexciting action is another matter. I was checking out long before the rampaging mutant troll showed up and started pulverizing the antiques.
One of the films’ biggest issues is its pacing, especially whenever there’s a new character introduced. Even without having read the novels, it feels like Branagh and his team are trying to cram more story than the film’s 95-minute (give or take) runtime will allow. Artemis, for example, is supposed to be our extraordinary hero who we’re told (many times) is an exceptional person who can accomplish any task, but we never really see him do anything remarkable. Besides a brief encounter with Artemis’ therapist where he tries to find out what makes the boy tick, there’s very little time spent learning who Artemis is as a character.
The Guardian – Peter Bradshaw
Dench has one or two moderately funny lines (“Get the fffff … four-leaf clover out of here,” she stutters at one stage) and there is an amusing setpiece when the fairies impose a kind of mass-hypnotic time-freeze situation on an Italian wedding where a giant, grisly troll is about to run amok, so that Holly can neutralise the horrible beast without any of the humans there remembering afterwards what has happened. (Again, a bit of a men-in-black idea.) Images and characters bounce around like shapes on a screensaver and only McDonnell and Gad’s performances have any fizz. This is a YA-franchise by numbers.
Everybody knows (and by “everybody,” I mean the best-selling series’ many readers, most of whom have long since aged out of the demographic for this movie) that Artemis Fowl is a “12-year-old criminal mastermind.” But Disney has seen fit to turn the infamous young antihero into a precocious do-gooder, scrubbing the character of precisely the elements that made him so intriguing: Just think of the brilliantly villainous schemes you could pull off if you started planning before getting your first pimple!
But no. It’s as if the studio had given the makers of “Despicable Me” notes, saying, “We love it! But does he have to be despicable? What if Gru’s just a guy with a lair and a lot of cool toys?” Sure, this is Disney we’re talking about, and it has a family-friendly reputation to uphold, but who wants to see another retread of the “magic is real” genre with some spoiled twit as your main character?
Last Updated: June 12, 2020