NEW YORK: No movie that features Judi Dench as a fairy who says “Get the four-leaf clover out of here” can be all bad, but the big-budget adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s “Artemis Fowl” tests that truism.
The movie debut of “Artemis Fowl,” which has grown into a best-selling series of eight young-adult novels over the last two decades, has been long in coming. First acquired in 2001, it’s gone through endless development, false-starts and release delays.
Shot in 2018 and originally slated to open last year in theaters, “Artemis Fowl” finally arrives Friday on Disney Plus, the last detour in a long road to release for Kenneth Branagh’s $125 million fantasy adventure.
There are plenty of hallmarks of that struggle on the screen: general incoherence, awkward narration, a black hole of a protagonist. All of these things would probably doom any movie but they are particularly troublesome for one that’s also trying to reestablish fairies as a high-tech, underground militants.
“Artemis Fowl,” where fairies, goblins and dwarves live clandestinely below ground, adds plenty of muscle to usually more docile magical realms. It fuses fairy tale with Rambo, a revision that will appeal to anyone who ever read “Peter Pan” and thought Tinker Bell ought to have a bazooka.
The story is centered on a seemingly perpetually suit-clad and sunglasses-wearing 12-year-old boy genius, Artemis Fowl II (Ferdia Shaw, grandson of actor Robert Shaw). He lives in an absurd cliff-side mansion in Ireland with his similarly outfitted father, Artemis Fowl I (Colin Farrell).
The elder Fowl, a dealer of antiquities, is kidnapped and held hostage for a missing MacGuffin called the Aculos. The younger Fowl, relying on his father’s teachings and clues in his office, learns of the magical world his dad has long secretly trafficked in with the help of his bodyguard/butler (a dubious role, played by Nonso Anozie). Believing the fairies responsible, he manages to kidnap one named Holly (Lara McDonnell), prompting a war with their special forces, LEPrecon, who are led by Dench.
If there was a single soul left who doubted the powers of the 85-year-old Dench, “Artemis Fowl” may do the trick. Even in a green winged suit presiding iron-fisted over an army of fairies, she is miraculously none the worse for wear. It is now proven: She can rise above anything.
The script by the usually much better Irish playwright Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl is surely much edited. The movie clocks in at close to 90 minutes and relies on the regular narration of a gravely voiced dwarf named Mulch played by Josh Gad.
But when you’re not trying to grasp the frantic story line, you will struggle to think of why you care, anyway. In the books, the younger Artemis is “a criminal mastermind” and something of a pipsqueak antihero. He’s here bereft of those qualities and comes across more as a smug, privileged rich boy who does nothing to earn his quick success.
Cribbed from “Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter,” “Artemis Fowl” will surely go down as another in a long line of YA knockoffs that tripped somewhere between the bestseller list and the big screen. Or, in this case, the small screen.
For those who have spent the last few months hungering for a big-spectacle mess (they are, after all, a feature of summer moviegoering), now you can take in a big-budget flop from the comfort of your own home. For anyone else, you’re probably better off... well, what Dame Judi said.