The long-awaited adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl book series is here. Readers of the franchise may have felt a flicker of hope looking at the magnanimity of names involved here. There’s Judi Dench, there’s Colin Farrell, and there’s Kenneth Branaugh helming the Disney’s ambition to make Artemis Fowl as big as JK Rowling’s fantasy franchise. There’s nothing wrong with having that ambition, but it falls flat trying too hard to spin the magic another book franchise has had has over its readers.
The 95-minute long story begins with Josh Gad’s Mulch Diggums narrating the story with neat, wanderlust-triggering montages of Ireland, and the Fowls’ love for it. It seems all too spelled out. Diggums repeatedly, throughout the movie keeps highlighting what a genius this boy is, and how afraid one should be of this twelve-year-old mastermind. Diggums’ appearance comes as a stark reminder of what Hagrid would look like if he did not live on the school grounds and did not have Dumbledore to take care of him.
Artemis Fowl Jr. is the ‘suited up’ 12-year-old boy genius in the spotlight here, at what can be assumed as a therapist’s clinic, defying and one-upping the man trying to do his job of managing a pre-teen with daddy issues that crop up periodically. One can understand, that perhaps, a parents’ absence can render one numb with denial and repressed angst. But then Ferdia Shaw’s Artemis Jr. remains the same boy who walked out of the therapist’s with a poker face, reeking of condescension. Imagining Iain Armitage present on the sets helping Shaw settle on a middle-ground on how exactly a pre-pubescent Young Sheldon is not difficult.
Artemis Fowl Sr. and his son live in a large mansion, where Colin Farrell’s and Shaw’s Artemises talk about faerie folk, he passionately tells stories to his son about how the faerie folk and the fantastical elements of Irish folklores. The father and son recite Irish blessings to each other. Cute. Perhaps the only time you’re engaged into the film as it gives our young Artemis a purpose when Artemis Sr. gets kidnapped, and he begins looking for the ‘Aculos’.
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Aculos is the most powerful object to ever exist in the Artemis Fowl universe. The being who has kidnapped Artemis Fowl Sr. wants it. The being, Opal Koboi was the most powerful faerie at one point. But Opal Koboi turned bad. Now Opal Koboi, with a snigger-inducing shrill voice, wants the Aculos to rule the world and basically wipe out some part of the world and establish supremacy….. Sounds way too familiar, doesn’t it?
Branaugh, in one of his interviews with international media said that Eoin Colfer gave him a lot of liberty in shaping Artemis’ character and the universe. And yet, Haven City is what happens when you rush through platform 9 ¾ – lovely, yet now mundane. For those who know and understand the theory of Agartha, or simply enjoyed the Journey To The Center Of The Earth would be slightly disappointed in the CGI used to show the Haven City. While the underlying theme of steampunk is a visual refresher, the ‘haven’ of creatures of the folklore is not expected as a blue tinged large cave. Artemis Jr. would be disappointed.
Judi Dench remains the saving grace who lights up the screen with her presence. Her role as Commander Root shows her as the matriarch-ish boss of L.E.PRECON (the faeries who police the netherworld). Even she is not immune to the painfully simplified plotline and dumbed-down dialogues that are repeated to the point they can be compiled into a song – ‘Find the Aculos’, ‘Keep the Aculos safe’, We must recover the Aculos’ and then some more – is just one example. Lara McDonnell as Captain Holly Short does a great job as a young officer wanting to find the truth about her father, falls into the Aculos trap herself.
She and Artemis meet only about a couple of hours after Artemis’ father is kidnapped. And by then, Artemis knows practically everything there was to know about the faerie world – one which he did not believe until his father disappeared and the family bodyguard Domovoi Butler played by Nonso Anozie convinces him. The boy genius is prepared for war against faeries within minutes!
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The Lockhart Hangover
When a book is adapted into a film, makers can stress more on the visuals. Garish CGI drives it while emotions take a backseat, ruining the movie with indifference as of a stubborn child wanting to become the next franchise runner. Technicalities of the prose that miss translation on-screen are forgivable. But what could have made up, is the soul – one does not feel what Colfer must want us to feel.
Shaw maintains a cool facade through most of the film – even when his curly-haired friend Juliet is attacked by a troll – in a bathroom. Hmm. While in parts, the movie exudes vibes of The Spiderwick Chronicles the vengeful satisfaction of watching Mulgarath meeting a hilariously tragic fate is missing. Colin Farrell and Judi Dench’s talents are embarrassingly underused.
Branaugh’s genius is known globally. It disappoints, and his Gilderoy Lockhart hangover may have spilled over in Artemis Fowl. But one thing done right here may just be that Artemis Jr. is a rather pro-active kid than a passive Harry and or a whiny Frodo. Art’s taking cues from Kevin McCallister on how to keep unwanted visitors away from the house, and have a great adventure doing so. If the reports state right that Eoin Colfer allowed these many changes in the movie, watching this may leave a bad aftertaste for the fans of the series. And post this, one readers may hope that Colfer’s recently released, brand new stand-alone adult-fantasy Highfire does not become a movie. Because books, will always be better the film.
The movie is a two stars out of four
Where to watch Artemis Fowl?
The movie is available to watch on Disney+ Hotstar from June 12.
(Promo image credit: Artemis Fowl instagram)
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