Magic and wonder exist on the big screen again with Artemis Fowl. Get ready for a wild adventure that the whole family will enjoy. Kenneth Branagh’s brilliant adaptation of the first two books of the Eoin Colfer series brings to the screen the criminal genius, twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl played by Ferdia Shaw. Desperate to rescue his father Artemis Fowl Sr., played by Colin Farrell, Artemis Jr. hatches a plan that will bring him into contact with the fairy world in a race to outwit a criminal fairy named Opal Koboi, who is holding his father hostage.
Ferdia Shaw is a perfect match for the literary character. On the page Artemis is a cocky know-it-all that is the smartest person in the room, even when that room is filled with magical fairies. Shaw not only projects that smugness on the screen, he injects humanity into the brilliant Artemis. When Colin Farrell and Shaw are on screen, they portray an awkward but loving father son relationship perfectly. Farrell holds back in many scenes and allows Shaw to be the focus and to drive the narrative. Though he was taught by his father for years about Irish fairy tales that chronicle the exploits of fairies, goblins, and trolls, Artemis must confront a world that is magical and now a part of his everyday life.
Master dwarf thief Mulch Diggums, played by Josh Gad, couldn’t be a better casting choice. Gad is joyful throughout his time on screen, and he inhabits the role of Diggums with a joie de vivre that many actors could not bring to this role. Gad is delightful as he deals with pesky goblins in his prison cell, and the banter he has with Judi Dench’s Commander Root over a reduced prison sentence has probably created some memorable outtakes. Gad also binds the story together with his narration throughout the film, which does not distract from the action of the story and seamlessly ties together the two books into one movie.
Lara McDonnell has a tricky role to play as fairy Holly Short. She must balance her responsibility as a LEPrecon officer, while living with the scandal that her father Beachwood might have been a traitor to the fairy people. McDonnell and Shaw are witty and biting in their Artemis and Holly dialogue trying to decide if they can trust each other. When Artemis releases Holly from her cell, she daftly reinforces to the viewer and Artemis that Holly Short is not to be messed with.
Rounding out the cast is Nonso Anozie as Butler. The trusted bodyguard to Artemis Fowl Sr, Butler takes Artemis Jr under his wing and together they work exceptionally well in fighting off the fairy attack at Fowl Manor. The scene of them on the front step of Fowl Manor battling the attacking fairy squadron reminded me of Neo and Morpheus in The Matrix. They looked like a perfect team of combatants that the fairies would never be able to defeat.
Juliet Butler, played by Tamara Smart, and Foaly, played by Nikesh Patel, shine in their pivotal but smaller roles, while Joshua McGuire who plays Briar Cudgeon is the perfect villain in plain sight. The audience knows that Cudgeon is a pawn of Opal Koboi, but McGuire masquerades his evil by using the rule of law to outwit Commander Root. The viewers will see that Cudgeon is the typical henchmen to Opal’s master villain, but Joshua McGuire makes Cudgeon especially vile with him sneering at Root as he relieves her of command during the Fowl Manor siege.
When a successful literary franchise is adapted to film, there are bound to be changes that alter what fans expect from the story they know well. While Artemis Fowl is a combination of books one and two from series, fans of the novels will rejoice at the creativity used in blending the two stories into one cohesive film. The change to Commander Root, who was a male character in the books shouldn’t concern fans of the book. Dench is perfect as the hard-nosed authority figure that commands the LEPrecon force. Longtime readers will never look at Commander Root and not think of Judi Dench again.
The movie differs from the books by creating a backstory for Holly Short immediately. We get a better reason for why Holly would go to the oak tree in Ireland where Artemis and Butler capture her. In the books her capture is by chance, but the new backstory of Holly makes more sense for the movie audience and shows quickly how Holly and Artemis are joined together through their paternal bonds.
Artemis Fowl stays true to its Irish roots. From the actors, director, filming on location in Ireland, and even the use of the Irish blessing to the lyrical soundtrack, viewers will get swept up in how true the film stays to the author’s world. Director Kenneth Branagh continues to prove that he is a master at creating cinematic worlds.
We have just scratched the surface of the world created by Eoin Colfer. At Artemis Fowl’s, we know there is room left for sequels, and this viewer wants to see what Ferdia Shaw and Lara McDonnell will do with their characters in a follow up movie. Artemis Fowl gets 5 Pots of Gold out of 5 for a brilliant rendering of the literary world.
Artemis Fowl starts streaming on Disney+ June 12.