REVIEW: Disney +’s ARTEMIS FOWL is a YA mess that is DOA


Director Kenneth Branaugh’s long-gestating adaptation of the 2001 Young Adult fantasy novel is an incoherent hodge-podge of a film that struggles to entertain.

One of my favorite shows of the last year was HBO’s adaptation of Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. A series that deals with a lot of heavy subject matter in society through allegory and magical realism, one of the keys into making the material engaging is through the series’ protagonist Lyra, who is intelligent, but also relatable in her experiences and how she deals with the fantastic. All the things that His Dark Materials gets right are a blueprint for what ARTEMIS FOWL gets wrong. Based on another YA series, ARTEMIS FOWL follows a tween super genius, Artemis II (Ferdia Shaw), a rich kid with a chip on his shoulder who wants to spend time with his mysterious father, Artemis Sr. (Colin Farrell in a now you see, now you don’t performance). After a trip on his “superyacht,” Artemis goes missing and is exposed as an antiquities thief. Right here, this sounded like a bad ripoff of Tomb Raider, but it turns out Artemis Sr. collects and steals magical items to hide the knowledge of fairies and other fairytale creatures from the world. It turns out one of these creatures, a fairy called Opal Koboi, kidnaps Artemis Sr. and tasks Jr. with recovering a Macguffin for her called the Aculos in exchange for Sr.’s life. Along the way, we also find that fairies serve on an underground police force and one of them Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) eventually crosses paths with Artemis in a story that somewhat mirrors his own.

That all being said, ARTEMIS FOWL is frustrating on an atomic level. Its an example of a film that has meddled with so many times by so many people that any sense of narrative thrust is all but obliterated. There is a nonsensical narrative device provided by Josh Gad’s dwarf character Mulch Diggums as he narrates his involvement with Fowl to an unnamed inspector which basically amounts to Gad narrating every scene throughout the film to explain the film’s stitch and glue editing. The amount of overdubbed voiceover in the film is criminal; down to Nonso Anozie’s Domovoi doing an instant info dump to Fowl Jr. as soon as his father disappears. Never once does the film trust you to understand anything on your own, your hand is led and it makes the process of watching the film largely boring and inert. This makes you further question other choices the film makes, such as why Domovoi and his niece Juliet (Tamara Smart) are even in the film as they are largely given nothing to do. Moreover, it is even weirder how despite both characters being played by POC, they’re given bizarre anglo-derived features; Domovoi wears blue-eyed contact lenses and has a platinum blonde buzzcut, Juliet also having strawberry blonde hair. Its bizarre nad feels like a studio note somehow as do many of the film’s setpieces. Rather than elicit awe, they seem designed to check off plot beats, which isn’t helped by the fact that there’s never a sense of risk or reward through the film and the film’s abrupt and inert ending just serves to make Fowl seem all the cheaper.

Ultimately, Fowl was going to be a loss for the House of Mouse and a Disney + exclusive gives the film more life than it might’ve had at a multiplex. That being said, FOWL feels like a bad made for TV film and those involved deserve better than a hot mess of a cinematic hotdish.