PLOT A boy genius discovers that Ireland’s magical folktales are true.
CAST Ferdia Shaw, Colin Ferrell, Judi Dench
RATED PG (mild peril)
WHERE Streaming on Disney+
BOTTOM LINE Another hopeful entry in the post-Potter fantasy-franchise sweepstakes.
There are no new ideas, only new combinations of old ones, a maxim that pretty well sums up Disney’s latest fantasy-adventure, “Artemis Fowl.” Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Eoin Colfer’s novels presents a familiar bunch of characters and concepts borrowed from fairy tales, movies and, of course, the “Harry Potter” franchise. Colfer’s combinations clearly appeal to his millions of readers. Newcomers, however, may be less impressed.
Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) is a boy so brilliant that by the age of 12 he has trounced a world chess champ, cloned a goat and designed Dublin’s newest opera house. Confusingly, his father is also Artemis Fowl (Colin Farrell), a wealthy antiques collector and folklorist who is often absent for mysterious reasons. An opening scene of young Artemis matching wits with his therapist presents us with a potentially interesting character – a high-tech Encyclopedia Brown with a dark streak.
Things go in a different direction when the elder Artemis is captured by Opal Koboi, a subterranean creature whose face remains hidden within a burlap cowl. Opal’s ransom demand, something called an Aculos, is a mythical MacGuffin that suggests Ireland’s fanciful folk creatures – fairies, leprechauns and such -- are quite real. Suddenly we’re transported to fairy land, but hold the pixie dust: This is a high-tech civilization where the winged creatures run a police force armed with lasers, thermal-sensing goggles and time-freeze technology.
I told you it sounded familiar -- and that’s not counting the memory-wipe devices clearly modeled on the famous neuralyzers from “Men in Black.” It’s also a lot to process. Narration and exposition are provided by an oversized, shaggy-haired dwarf named Mulch (Josh Gad, looking a lot like Potter’s friend Hagrid), but Branagh still must rush to pack everything into a scant 95 minutes. The result is a torrent of information that lays the groundwork for possible future films but leaves almost no room for character development.
“Artemis Fowl” was scheduled to open in theaters in May, but COVID-19 forced it to bow on Disney+.The film seems better suited to the small screen anyway. The characters don’t loom large, and the cluttered storyline lacks the primal power of a big-screen movie. Whether “Artemis Fowl” is the start of a successful new franchise or just a way to pass the time during the pandemic remains to be seen.