Much like the book, Disney‘s adaptation of Artemis Fowl is more concerned with not losing its audience by never slowing down, than it is with delivering real depth of character or anything like a nuanced plot. On the other hand, also like the book, it’s still a good story and filled with wicked fun. Where they differ, it is in the film’s demand to run even faster, and absolutely all of the time.
For fans, one of the most pressing issues for an adaptation is the extent to which newcomer Ferdia Shaw can aptly deliver the devilish snot who is also a genius, and the fact is he isn’t quite given the chance. Artemis is delivered almost via montage in the film’s first few minutes, which is made up of an actual narrated montage of his early achievements coupled with a few moments of lashing out at the stupidity of the people around him that he’s forced to deal with. It’s littered with cliches of High School psychiatrists who are just stand-ins for “adults,” and awkward interactions with a dad who is rich and largely absent.
When things get moving, and Artemis Fowl Sr. (Colin Farrell) goes missing, we’re meant to have a solid feel for young Artemis through this lens of artifice and signposts, and little else is going to aim at shifting whatever view that gets us. Apart, that is, from his continued interaction with Holly Short (Lara McDonnell). Their relationship is also largely left for audiences to bring with them from the book, though they at least get some exceptional conversations that give these young actors a chance to briefly show off.
As our story begins to move, rich, genius Artemis Fowl suddenly finds himself with information he cannot believe. His missing father, who the press is suddenly calling a thief, has been abducted, apparently because someone thinks he stole an immensely powerful, fairy artifact. Oh, and fairies are real.
Not only are fairies real, but they have an advanced society underground, with a lot of technological advances we can barely dream of. In fact, it turns out the Fowl family has been investigating the fairy world for generations, and Artemis’ dad has quite the storehouse of information about them. The trouble is, Artemis doesn’t know what this artifact is, where it is, or how to get it. And, he can’t just try to enlist the fairies for help, if he knew how, because they aren’t going to hand it over to whoever has Artemis Sr.
Can a twelve year-old genius hatch a plan that is going to get the fairy world to provide the help he needs to get his father back? Well, he has hatched a plan, and it involves capturing a fairy, which isn’t something that’s easy to do, or get away with.
But, capture a fairy he does, which sets off a chain of events Artemis imagines will lead ever-nearer his father’s return, but there are nefarious forces afoot, obviously, and Artemis can’t really plan for everything, especially when he doesn’t actually know who is running what.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the film is surprisingly showy and perhaps too committed to sprinting as the answer for everything. While we are in the realm of YA fiction, certain aspects that made the book special are given short shrift in favor of time for more special effects. Chiefly, as I’ve mentioned, the overall relationship and jabbing dialog between Artemis and Holly is really the beginning and end of the whole book, and most of their time together is rushed, to say the least, in the film. Things still mostly work, but put with many of the other shorthand translations in the film, it isn’t out of bounds to wonder how well anything is delivered to those unfamiliar with the source.
Still, the movie delivers a magical world, with young people struggling to prove themselves, and though this is an odd adventure, which is part of the charm, it certainly is an adventure. The movie might falter when it comes to the depth some may be looking for, but the whimsy and wonder are there in spades, as is the inherent draw of following this Alice down this rabbit hole.