The character Artemis Fowl was meant to be a true anti-hero for kids, a twelve year-old criminal mastermind with a psychotic bent, like one of those creepy children from any number of horror films of the past twenty years. In typical Disney fashion, he’s been neutered and made into a too-cool-for-school smart-ass whose genius comes off unbelievable instead of inspiring or interesting. Some of that is Disney’s fault, some of that is the fault of young actor Ferdia Shaw. And he’s surrounded by some of the worst world-building this side of the DCEU. Filmmaker Kenneth Branagh, a clear director-for-hire here, throws so many flourishes at the screen in the hopes that maybe no one will notice how little sense any of it makes if they’re distracted by the next shiny object or cute bit of fairy world terminology. Instead it’s all so excessively busy, to the point that anyone uninitiated will be completely lost a mere ten minutes into the movie.
There are elves, dwarves, giants, giant dwarves, fairy politics and time freezes, underground civilizations, and multiple MacGuffins, all in the span of 95 minutes. The plot is overstuffed and clearly the product of last-minute cutting to bits. The lone silver lining is Josh Gad as a clever giant dwarf named Mulch Diggums, an irascible career criminal who travels by eating dirt and farting it out the other side to burrow underground. Foul, but no less absurdly funny than it sounds. The writers knew what to do with him, how to write for him. Apparently the same wasn’t true for the rest of the cast, with Colin Farrell appearing lost and Judi Dench appearing for an obvious paycheck. Other than Diggums, every character receives the cinematic equivalent of a Facebook profile for character development, a brief intro via narration and little else after. Maybe Branagh himself should stop taking these paychecks.