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Ferdia Shaw stars as Artemis Fowl, a young criminal prodigy hunting down a secret society of fairies to find his missing father.

Walt Disney Studios

  • Artemis Fowl
  • Directed by Kenneth Branagh
  • Written by Michael Goldenberg, Adam Kline and Conor McPherson
  • Starring Ferdia Shaw, Judi Dench and Colin Farrell
  • Classification PG; 88 minutes

rating

1.5 out of 4 stars

“I don’t understand!” That’s what one character exclaims wildly toward the end of the new young-adult adventure Artemis Fowl as fantastical chaos rages all around her – fairies and goblins and trolls and time-freeze devices, oh my! – and I, for one, agreed completely. Director Kenneth Branagh’s long-delayed adaptation of author Eoin Colfer’s YA series is a confusing, muddled, sloppy mess of bad intentions and worse execution.

Colfer has written eight well-received books chronicling young criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl – who comes from a long line of thieves, and has strong ties to a Hogwarts-ish magical underground thriving beneath our own – and, very likely, there’s a good film franchise to be had adapting them properly and with care. But in Branagh and his producers’ crass bid to kick-start their very own Harry Potter/Percy Jackson/whatchamacallit YA gold mine, they’ve created an 88-minute migraine that immediately quashes any sequel dreams.

Colin Farrell makes an appearance as the title character's father.

Walt Disney Studios

Opening with an interrogation scene that doubles as a lazy exposition device, we’re introduced to Ireland’s fabulously wealthy Fowl family: father Artemis (Colin Farrell, in and out quickly), who might be the world’s most prolific art thief; 12-year-old son Artemis II (newcomer Ferdia Shaw, poor kid), who is an Einstein-level genius; and the family’s housekeeper/enforcer/comic-relief named, er, Butler (Nonso Anozie, doing his best). Soon – so soon that you might wonder if large chunks of the film were tossed out the window in the editing bay – the younger Artemis is thrown into a nonsensical adventure involving magic, a MacGuffin called the Aculos and a Hagrid-esque vagabond played with screeching annoyance by family cinema’s greatest enemy, Josh Gad.

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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.

Judi Dench plays the commander of an elf police force.

Walt Disney Studios

Branagh seems less interested in crafting a coherent, engaging movie than he is in having everyone say the name “Artemis Fowl” as many times as possible in the deluded hope that repetition breeds familiarity, maybe even leading to brand-name affection.

Originally scheduled to open in theatres in August, 2019, Disney last year punted Artemis Fowl to May, 2020. But thanks to COVID-19, the studio is launching the film directly on its streaming service/babysitting device Disney+ – as close to a tacit admission of Artemis Fowl’s guilt as we’re likely to get out of the Hollywood giant.

But if your home-bound children happen to notice the film pop up on Disney+'s home page, don’t panic. Simply tell them that it’s a user error, queue any random Pixar film instead and calmly walk back to your home office to scream into a pillow for four minutes straight. Happy summer movie season, everyone.

Artemis Fowl is available to stream on Disney+ starting June 12

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