Kenneth Branagh can’t quite save ‘Artemis Fowl’

Rick's Reviews

“Artemis Fowl” has been moved from a theatrical release to being available through Disney+. (Photo courtesy of Disney).

Any list of the top directors working in the feature film world today should include Kenneth Branagh. The accomplished actor has shown an incredible skill at taking any material – whether it be a Shakespeare play (“Hamlet”) or a comic book (“Thor”) – and turn it into a production that is entertaining enough for a mass audience.

Branagh’s latest effort, “Artemis Fowl,” gave him the challenge of taking a series of books aimed at young readers and giving the film based on the written works into a project that has the same broad appeal. He does his best with the new release to distract from the muddled story and annoying ending with big action scenes. But, even the talented Branagh can’t make these words work.

“Artemis Fowl” is the story of 12-year-old genius Artemis Fowl – played by Ferdia Shaw – who is a descendant of a long line of criminal masterminds. He is given the task of having to save his father (Colin Farrell) and to do that, he must infiltrate an ancient, underground civilization of fairies under the guidance of Commander Root (Judi Dench).

An unseen villain is looking to trade Fowl’s father for an important item to the fairies. It is up to the young hero to find the item before the magical army stops him so he can make the swap.

Young viewers who know the story from the series of books by Eion Colfer aimed at their demographic will have an advantage as they can fill in holes in the script by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl. It is never a great sign when it is important to have read the book to fully understand a movie. The film should be written with enough clarity to tell the tale properly.

The screenwriters do use the character of Mulch Diggums – played by Josh Gad – to provide some narration. It helps a little but Gad’s work ends up being more for comic relief than story explanation.

The weakness of the script is surprising as it took years for “Artemis Fowl” to finally get filmed. Once the movie was done, there were more problems. It was originally scheduled to be released in theaters last year but the opening was delayed and scheduled to be available in May of this year.

Then the quarantine hit and no movies were opening in theaters. The decision was finally made to make the film available on the streaming service of Disney+ starting June 12. That’s not a bad idea because the film is entertaining but not strong enough to be worthy of a theatrical release.

The weak script isn’t the only problem. One of the most glaring failures with the film is the unseen villain. The production ends without that mystery being solved suggesting there will be at least one more movie based on the books. Now that the production has been reduced to a release for the streaming service, the odds of a sequel seem thin.

If there is a sequel, years have passed since Ferdia Shaw and the other young cast members made the first movie. A sequel would be a complete recasting or a clever explanation of how the main characters aged so quickly.

“Artemis Fowl” does not have the quality to justify a sequel but isn’t so bad that viewers should skip the chance to watch it through Disney+. It would have been a much more disappointing effort without Branagh at the helm. He does manage to make “Artemis Fowl” entertaining enough for an audience stuck at home and starving for some new entertainment.

Grade: 2 stars.

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