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Artemis Fowl (2020)  rating

Review: written 2020

The dullest brightly coloured thing you’ll watch this year.

Artemis Fowl (2020)

This adaptation from the highly successful novels of Eoin Colfer is extremely hard to be won over by. It certainly sounds like a winner – successful young adult source material, directed by sure-fire director with experience in both dramatic heft and special effects extravaganzas (Kenneth Branagh – Shakespeare stalwart, and director of Cinderella and Thor, to boot.). Throw in a couple of big name actors to bolster the younger inexperienced members of the cast (Colin Farrell, Judi Dench) and the recipe seems perfect. Sadly, something has gone curiously wrong.

The story revolves around a young and preternaturally intelligent but difficult child, Artemis Fowl Jr., whose father has just disappeared suddenly and mysteriously on one of his frequent trips away from home. To solve this disappearance all that young Artemis has to go on, is the wealth of knowledge about the secret world of Irish mythology, taught to him by his father with great seriousness, as if it was absolutely real. That, and a helpful bodyguard-cum-butler, called ..well, Butler. Soon it is revealed that this world of fairies and goblins and dwarves is in fact absolutely real and before long Artemis has a gigantic dwarf, a fairy and a bodyguard working with him to get his father safely home.

So here’s the thing – we’ve been down too many variations on this route before – a cinematic mish mash of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings isn’t enough to win over our imaginations and have us invest in this new world. Because despite the astonishing effects and myriad of ideas, it just never feels particularly new, and never feels particularly real, from a dramatic point of view. The dwarf looks and sounds like a knock off Hagrid, Judi Dench looks uncomfortable in her frankly oddly cast role as general of the fairy’s army, and the goblins made me think I’d stumbled into Gringotts. To add insult to injury, although Lara McDonnell is really pretty good in her role as the fairy seeking to uncover the mystery behind her father’s death, Colin Farrell looks entirely uninterested or involved in proceedings, and Ferdia Shaw as the title character never demonstrates the charisma or watchability that would make this a series of movies with longevity. Where other franchises predicated on such fantastic worlds have succeeded, is by drip feeding elements of the fantastic, to let you experience from the point of view of the protagonist the wonder of discovery.. here we are thrown quickly into this world, and no matter how superbly rendered, fails to amaze us as a result. I have not read the source material, but the relatively lean running time speaks to what I assume must be excising of elements – which would explain how some elements are introduced without explanation (what are these rules about fairies going into houses that are alluded to?) and some disappear without resolution (an early scene with Artemis walking out of a psychiatrists office speaks to a subplot setting up Artemis’s character that is left hanging).

The film has some beautiful shots, both of the special effects generated Fairy city, and of the real-life Irish coast. Individual action set pieces are well done, while never having that hook to get you on the edge of your seat. The best I can say is that the production design is quite amazing, but if you’re watching a movie thinking how well they picked the furniture and what nice colours the mythical creatures are, then something has gone dramatically wrong.

For younger audiences looking for random effects and action, this might be enough to keep them occupied, and it certainly has wonderful production value and stunning photography in places, but for the rest of us this is dispiriting to watch – a big budget wasted opportunity to fill that hole in the cinematic calendar where Harry Potter used to sit.

In summary – it lacks magic.

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