Artemis Fowl (2 stars)

Artemis Fowl

A scene-stealing Judi Dench can't salvage this disappointing fantasy adaptation from Kenneth Branagh

A screen adaptation of Eoin Colfer's successful YA fantasy series has been in the works for almost two decades, ever since the first book was released in 2001. With multiple directors attached over the years, the film reached its final hurdle when Covid-19 hit and halted its planned April theatrical release. Its debut on the Disney+ service makes it the first major Disney production to be moved directly to streaming during the current health crisis.

Through the adventures of 12-year-old criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl (played by Ferdia Shaw in the film), Irish author Colfer played with his country's mythology and folklore to create a secret fairy world where humans battle with and protect magical creatures. Themes of greed and corruption allowed the arrogant and wealthy titular character to evolve into an antihero – a bit like an Irish Batman, done up like a spy and sporting some nifty gadgets.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, working from a screenplay by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl, the adaptation tinkers with the text from the first two novels to combine and trim the stories. The result is an overstuffed and tedious 94-minutes that obliterates Fowl's personal journey in favour of showy set-pieces that barely form a coherent narrative. The world building and visuals are eye-catching, yet they are never imaginative enough to truly enchant.

The crux of the story revolves around Fowl's attempts to rescue his kidnapped father (Colin Farrell), while also holding 'LEPrecon' fairy cop Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) hostage at his giant mansion on the coast of Ireland. The action is framed by narration from Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad, looking like Hagrid from Harry Potter and sounding like a 1980s Kathleen Turner), who is relaying the tale to MI6 in an interrogation room.

The thrills are few, the characterisation bland and the acting only up to the standard of generic kids' fare. There is some fun to be had with a scene-stealing Judi Dench in her role of an 800-year-old fairy, Commander Root. With a dodgy Irish accent and a lurching physical performance, she entirely inhabits the demeanour of a whisky-addled cop who's seen it all – it's as jaw-droppingly comical as Tom Hanks's turn as Dermot Hoggins in Cloud Atlas.

As a high-profile adaptation of a beloved series of novels, Artemis Fowl fails to match the impressive vision of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, or the buoyant spirit of the Potter films. There's always room for poetic licence but, by veering too far from the original texts, it loses some of the magic and seems destined to be chalked up as an opportunity missed.

Available to watch on Disney+ from Fri 12 Jun.

Disney's Artemis Fowl | Official Trailer

Artemis Fowl

  • 2 stars
  • 2019
  • US
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
  • Cast: Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Nonso Anozie

Family fantasy about the nefarious plans of a young Irish criminal mastermind.