Part of the beauty of Harry Potter’s name is that it’s so mundane and Muggley. Artemis Fowl’s is a lot showier. Well, if you were a 12-year-old genius/master criminal you’d probably want to show off, too. But a fancy name will take a character and the YA fantasy novels about him only so far. The Fowl books have been big bestsellers, but not of “Potter” proportions. What has?
Disney hopes that will change with “Artemis Fowl,” which scavenges the first two books in the series and plays down the master-criminal side of its title character, for a movie that’s too slick, too busy, too confused (and confusing), but not undiverting. Originally intended for theatrical release, it starts streaming on Disney+ June 12.
Artemis lives in a manor house in Ireland. As played by newcomer Ferdia Shaw, he’s more annoying than necessary. When a Voldemortish villain kidnaps Artemis’s father (Colin Farrell), he needs to ransom him with a glowing Wexford crystal-looking thing — the movie is set in Ireland — that’s described as “a skeleton key to the universe.”
That universe includes a supernatural world underground that looks like a high-tech cross between Diagon Alley and the Ministry of Magic (the movie wants to be set in the “Potter” books). The population consists of fairies, dwarfs, goblins, trolls, and at least one centaur. The Lower Elements Police reconnaissance unit (LEPrecon — get it?) keeps things in order. Judi Dench is in charge. Of course Judi Dench is always in charge. That’s what makes her Judi Dench. The most startling special effect in a movie full of them is her voice, which sounds like peanut brittle laced with gravel.
The supernatural stuff is a bit twee — the movie is set in Ireland — which makes the techiness a bit jarring. Gossamer wings are fine. So are video readouts. The two of them together? Not so much. With all the pointy ears and green outfits, “Artemis Fowl” often looks like a Vegas buffet where the only thing on the menu is Lucky Charms — lots and lots of Lucky Charms.
Artemis enlists the aid of the supernaturals, thanks to the intervention of a LEPrecon officer, Holly Short. As Holly, Lara McDonnell is feisty and very appealing; she’s the best thing in the movie. Also helping out is an oversized dwarf, Mulch Diggums. As relentlessly overplayed by Josh Gad, he’s like Jack Black auditioning for the role of Hagrid the Giant (it’s the beard). As I may have mentioned, the movie wants to be set in the “Potter” books.
The Fowls’s butler (Nonso Anozie) is named Butler. That moniker is an example of how witty the movie can occasionally be. One wonders if a director more playful than Kenneth Branagh might have come up with something less hectic and more fun — or even just as hectic and more fun. Taika Waititi, anyone? Jojo Rabbit is almost as odd a name as Artemis Fowl.
Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Written by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl; based on the novels by Eoin Colfer. Starring Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Colin Farrell, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Nonso Anozie. Streaming on Disney+, starting June 12. 94 minutes. PG (fantasy action/peril, some rude humor).
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.