Movie Review: “Fowl” Play is Afoot in Disney’s ‘Artemis Fowl’

Image courtesy Disney.

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Artemis Fowl follows a child genius, Artemis Fowl Jr., and his bodyguard Domovoi Butler, as they plot to kidnap a fairy to save his father from the clutches of an evil pixie mastermind named Opal Koboi. She is demanding a powerful artifact, the Aculos, as ransom, which was recently stolen from the fairies and thus out of her reach. Along the way we meet many races of fairykind, including trolls, dwarves, centaurs, goblins, and elves, and their secret, advanced civilization beneath Earth’s surface. The movie culminates in a standoff between the fairy police force and Artemis, Domovoi, and Domovoi’s niece Juliet, as they demand the Aculos (and a pot of gold) as ransom for Holly Short, the elf they kidnapped.

I grew up reading the Artemis Fowl book series by Eoin Colfer, so when I first heard the whispers of a movie adaptation I was excited, to say the least. After a much longer wait than I anticipated – about 19 years from the first announcement by Miramax, in fact – I still found myself as excited as my 10-year-old self was all those years ago to finally see Disney’s adaptation to the novel. I knew from the trailers that the movie would not strictly follow the events of the book, and thus went into it with an open mind.

The Artemis Fowl movie is actually more of a blend of the first two books, Artemis Fowl and Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident. Elements were taken from each to create a unique plot that still followed the general storyline of the series so far. Fans of the book series will immediately be able to pick out some of the major changes because of this, most notably the presence of Artemis Fowl Sr. (Colin Farrell) and the family’s established relationship with the fairies. As jarring as it was to have such a departure from the book, it does make sense to the plot and helps move it along without needing to spend too much time on the backstory. However, in the books, the Fowl’s fortune is due to their criminal empire, which is only lightly touched upon in the movie and done so in a rather confusing way. Artemis Sr., who is an antiquities dealer, disappears from his ship in the South China Sea. The abandoned ship is found to have many priceless artifacts on board, and Artemis Sr. is accused of stealing them. The movie touched on the Fowl family history of protecting priceless treasures from the wrong hands but does not make it clear if this is why Artemis Sr. had the artifacts aboard his ship or if he indeed had stolen them for profit.

I’ll admit it has been quite a while since I’ve read the first Artemis Fowl book, but I think the movie did a better job of making Artemis Fowl Jr. (Ferdia Shaw) a believable character. The scenes of him surfing and genuinely enjoying time spent with his dad remind us that he’s really just a kid, albeit a criminal mastermind kid. Shaw is able to combine both of these sides of Artemis well and delivers an excellent performance both as a genius and a 12-year-old boy who just wants his dad. As this is his theatrical debut, he brings a lot of promising talent to this series and beyond.

As a fan of the books, it was strange for me to hear Domovoi “Dom” Butler (Nonso Anozie) referred to by his first name since we had no idea what it was until the third book in the series. However, Anozie plays him very well in the movie, bringing a small moment of comic relief to the normally stoic bodyguard as he waits in the cold to capture a fairy. He captures every important aspect about his character and overall is a great choice for Domovoi Butler. I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that the scene with Dom donning the suit of armor to fight the troll was omitted, but the movie holds well to the destruction and fear caused by the troll and Dom still saves the day, even without the armor.

The movie also did well with the fairy civilization of Haven City and the Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance division, a.k.a. L.E.P.Recon, especially given the limited time they had to introduce so much information to the audience. Officer Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) was well portrayed by the actress as a young but determined officer who trusts her gut and is not afraid to act against orders from her superiors if she feels there is a better course of action. She is repeatedly shown to have compassion for humans by saving them even when being ordered to leave. We are also introduced to Opal Koboi, the pixie mastermind who first appears in The Arctic Incident and kidnaps Artemis Sr. Koboi is excellently portrayed with her creepy, raspy voice and shrouded face, and succeeds in convincing the viewer that she is evil, manipulative, and out for revenge.

We also quickly meet the centaur Foaly (Nikesh Patel), a technological genius and L.E.P. tech advisor. He also brings some comic relief to the few scenes in which he appears, keeping in line with his book counterpart. Additionally, we meet Commander Root (Judi Dench), a no-nonsense elf in charge of the L.E.P.Recon division, and Briar Cudgeon (Joshua McGuire), a disgraced L.E.P. lieutenant reinstated through Koboi’s manipulation. Dench brings Commander Root to life with a much more levelheaded persona than within the books, but personally I think it’s a better choice given the overall feel of the movie. A lot of red-faced shouting would have felt out of place. McGuire’s depiction of Cudgeon effectively gets his power-hungry personality across, especially in his scenes with Dench.

By far, the depiction of Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) was the best interpretation from the book series, at least in my opinion. He’s portrayed wonderfully as a petty criminal, and was given enough screen-time to flesh out his character, thus making him one of the best book-to-movie transitions out of all the characters. Gad really brings him to life with his performance and has a great rapport with all others he interacts with. Even with the major changes in the plot, Mulch’s role remains mostly the same: break into Fowl Manor, steal the artifact hidden in the mansion, and fake his own death before reuniting with Holly and company for a new mission.

However, I was really confused about Mulch, per Artemis, revealing the existence of fairies and magic to humans. With how urgently the fairies kept their existence a secret, even going so far as mind-wiping humans who have encountered them, it felt incredibly odd to have their existence revealed anyway with no resistance. Why would the fairies allow that to clear the name of a human accused of stealing human artifacts? And if the fairies were going to wipe the memories of all humans involved, why even bother revealing their existence in the first place?

Overall the characters mesh together quite well in the short time frame they were given, though I wish more time was dedicated to Juliet Butler (Tamara Smart). She was given such little screen-time and almost no role in the plot, to the point she could have easily been omitted from the movie. I would have loved to see her use the martial arts skills she was shown to have in more than just her introduction scene. I also wish more time was given to building up the rapport between Artemis and Holly. They seemed to trust each other a little too quickly for me. While disappointing, both of these can be attributed to the movie’s hour and a half runtime – that doesn’t leave much for character development, especially when there is so much to show the audience.

In the end, it may not be as exciting for fans who were hoping for something more true to the books, but Artemis Fowl does a good job of setting up the world and characters for any subsequent movies. Those unfamiliar with the books might have to watch the movie a few times to absorb everything, but overall the movie is enjoyable enough as long as you don’t strictly compare it to the book. Artemis Fowl was originally scheduled for a theatrical release, which was cancelled due to coronavirus concerns and was instead released directly to Disney+.

Sarah

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Sarah joined Nerds and Beyond in 2019 to write about her many nerdy passions. With a Masters degree in Marine Biology, many question her decision to move to the desert (aka Las Vegas), but she is normally too preoccupied with teaching them about sea turtles to notice their concern. She refuses to fit in a box and lives her life on her own terms, sometimes in spite of societal norms. She loves to travel any chance she gets, which usually involves seeing her favorite band, Louden Swain. When at home, she enjoys binge-watching tv shows on her "to watch" list, working on craft projects, trying new recipes, and planning more travel.

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