I can’t seem to believe what I’ve seen. I was intrigued by this film for a while, I’ve not read the books but I was vaguely familiar with it. I was more familiar with the behind the scenes issues, how this was meant to come out in August 2019, was delayed until this year, had the cinema release cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ended up on Disney+. I wasn’t sure how the film would end up but I didn’t expect it to end up in this state. This is a complete mess and probably the most baffling hack job of a film since Suicide Squad.
The plot focuses on Artemis Fowl II, the 12 year old son of antiques dealer and thief Artemis Fowl Sr. One day his dad goes missing and Artemis is told that the world of the fairies is real and his dad was kidnapped by someone to find a powerful magical object, the Aculos, capable of teleportation. To rescue his dad, Artemis kidnaps elf police officer Holly Short as part of a plan to find the Aculos to ransom his dad. Now I know the way I’ve described the plot doesn’t make much sense and that’s because the film doesn’t make sense. There is no real sense of scale and weight to anything in the film. Everything is so ill defined that we don’t get an understanding of what any of it actually means. Even Artemis’ main plan doesn’t make sense. Everything involving the kidnapping of Holly Short happens through sheer luck, Artemis makes no attempt to lure Holly to him, he just sends someone to a location where his dad met a fairy in the past and hope that another one shows up, with no backup plan in case that fails. From there, the growing relationship between Artemis and Holly is completely rushed. What should have been the core of the film ends up being a minor element that gets nowhere near as much development as it should. Furthermore, the film tries to make the case that Artemis is a genius criminal mastermind but does nothing to back this up, it says that Artemis is a criminal but he never acts like a criminal, he just suddenly becomes one at the end of the film and even then it’s clear he’s being a criminal for altruistic reasons, not because he actually likes being one.
The way the film functions also means that there is no logical progression of the film from scene to scene, with the technology and the world of the film being very ill defined. For example, one part of the film we see is a time freeze which fairies use to prevent humans finding out they exist. However, the way the time freeze works completely changes from when it was introduced to when it’s placed around Artemis’ house. When we first see it used, it freezes the humans in it but allows the fairies and elves to move around freely. When it’s used around Artemis’ house though, the humans inside are able to move around freely with no explanation given. I hate having this mindset but it’s a fundamental part of the film that is not explained clearly enough. It’s also clear that this film has been hacked to the bone by Disney. I’ll get more into this when I talk about the editing but the main parts where this comes in is through the villain. It’s clear there were meant to be more scenes with the character but, as presented, she’s just a generic hooded figure villain, so generic that the character isn’t even named in the credits, just called Shadowy Female Figure, with three performers credited for playing the villain when, based on what I heard before release, the villain was meant to be played by Hong Chau. Whilst she did film scene for the film, including a scene where her appearance confirms to Artemis that fairies exist, they were cut out and stuck in the extras folder on Disney+. This scene she was in was clearly an integral part of the film and cutting it out caused so many issues that the film is unable to resolve, including rushing Artemis finding out who the villain is, her motivation and, most importantly, it means there is no big scene of Artemis finding out fairies are real.
The characters meanwhile have absolutely no development and barely any of them make an impression. Artemis Fowl himself is insufferable, having this smug air around him which could have worked in making him a lovable rogue, but Ferdia Shaw is awful in this film. Every line delivery from him is flat and he doesn’t have the charm needed to make Artemis a compelling character. Holly Short meanwhile is probably the character with the most development, but what development she does get is incredibly generic and, whilst Lara McDonnell is giving a good performance, she is saddled with the blandest, most generic dialogue. The rest of the characters though are completely disposable. Nonso Anozie as Artemis’ bodyguard, Dom Butler, is a one note character. Anozie is decent enough but he has nothing to work with and everything we know about the character is told through voice over rather than character actions. Josh Gad as dwarf thief Mulch Diggums is one of the most annoying characters I’ve seen. The voice Gad chooses for the character is incredibly distracting and the character is just unpleasant. Judi Dench as Commander Root is a stock commander character with no personality at all whilst Colin Farrell as Artemis Fowl Sr is clearly trying but it’s also clear a lot of his scenes were cut out of the film. Probably the worst served, in terms of people actually in the film, though is Tamara Smart as Juliet Butler who does absolutely nothing. She’s set up as a main character but all she does is bring other characters food. She has no personality, contributes nothing to the plot and she could have been cut out entirely and nothing would have been lost.
The technical elements of the film though are more of a mixed bag. As bad as a lot of other elements in the film are, Kenneth Branagh competently directs the film, the production design for the Fowl house and the world of the fairies is pretty good, the costume design is impressive and there are some decent effects in the film. However, Branagh has never been the best at action direction and this film has some of the worst, combined with truly awful editing which makes the action scenes impossible to follow. The action scenes meanwhile don’t seem to make much logical sense in how they flow. In one scene Artemis and Butler are able to take out dozens of highly trained elf officers using one weapon they are able to modify at will, but a few scenes later they have a lot of trouble taking out a troll and they make no use of the features of the weapon, which they still have and know how to use. It feels like there was meant to be a scene showing more of the limitations they have but this was cut out. Speaking of which, this leads into the editing. This film has clearly been hacked to the bone to meet a 90 minute run time which has the effect of removing any of the main character development and story beats. This wouldn’t be so bad if the film was paced and written to be a 90 minute film but this was clearly meant to be around 2 hours long. The scene transitions, the way the characters are depicted and story beats just jump from one to another with no connective tissue. The deleted scenes in Disney+ show a fair bit of important connective tissue that was cut out of the film which needed to be in there, the removal of these scenes causing issues with the plot and, rather than having scenes to fill in gaps, these elements are either told in voice over or have additional scenes cut out to hide any gaps, which only makes the gaps that are present more obvious. Again, going back to the villain, one of the deleted scenes in Disney+ was blatantly the original opening of the film and this being cut out created so many issues that ends up resulting in more cuts to hide that there was originally a different opening. Even the voice-over for the film from Josh Gad is incoherent with it being presented as an interrogation scene, in black and white for no real reason, but at some points the narration only makes sense with and addresses what we see on screen, which makes no sense for an interrogation where these visual elements are not present. Again, it feels like the voice-over was meant to fill in gaps in the story, but no care was given into having it make sense in context. Like I said, this is the most blatant hack job of a blockbuster film since Suicide Squad and whilst the editing here is not on the same level as Suicide Squad it is still atrocious.
Overall, Artemis Fowl is a complete disaster. There are some competent elements of the film and it’s not offensively awful, preventing it from receiving my lowest rating, but this is clearly a film made for IP recognition with no love for the property which was hacked to the bone to give it more cinema showings, before the COVID-19 pandemic meant it couldn’t get a cinema release. It’s not surprising that this has gone straight to Disney+, there is no way Disney would have made their money back had this been released to cinemas.
My Rating: 1/5