'Artemis Fowl' review – Judi Dench Gruffs It Out Amid Rogue Fairies
Kenneth Branagh directs this family-fantasy-by-numbers adapted from Eoin Colfer’s bestselling teen novels
The Guardian, 12 June 2020
After the film version of 'Cats', the world agreed that Judi Dench could never, should never do anything as bizarre as her performance as Old Deuteronomy, the bafflingly attired matriarch of the Jellicle cat tribe, wearing a fur coat in addition to her normal fur. But now Dench might actually have topped her feline folly, in this family fantasy adventure, adapted by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl from Eoin Colfer’s bestselling novels about the teen Irish hero in touch with magical forces and directed by Kenneth Branagh. She plays someone called Commander Root, who is the security chief of the fairy peoples who live deep underground. (It was a man in the book, but no male actor could be gruffer than Dench is here.)
Dench is styling a very notable military-style outfit in emerald green, which makes her look like some forgotten intergalactic villain from 'Star Wars'. Root has a growly, twangy, slightly Cornish voice; yet it was only when she appeared in full uniform, including a sinister peaked cap, and said “top o’ the morning,” that I said out loud: “Judi Dench is supposed to be Irish!”
The last time I heard that phrase used to denote Irishness, however ironically, was when Colin Farrell played Bullseye, the Irish supervillain in the little-loved Marvel movie 'Daredevil' (2003) and Farrell turns out to be in this as well, phoning in his performance for the fantastically dull role of Artemis Fowl Sr, the wealthy and reclusive connoisseur of Irish myth and legend who understands what most do not – that the fairies and little folk are real. When Fowl Sr is kidnapped by a fairy gone rogue, it is his troubled but brilliant 12-year-old son Artemis Fowl Jr (Ferdia Shaw) who has to save him, and deal with this evil abductor’s ransom demand for the fairy-folk’s most precious artefact: the Aculos, the key that governs the fairies’ control of their own domain and their entrance to the human world. But this Aculos is missing. How on earth is young Artemis supposed to get it? Fortunately, his destiny is to coincide with that of an audacious young fairy under Root’s command: Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) and also a roguish and somewhat Hagridian “giant dwarf” called Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad). Nonso Anozie plays Artemis’s bodyguard and martial-arts trainer, Butler. Together, Artemis and Butler wear some men-in-black-type suits and ties.
Dench has one or two moderately funny lines (“Get the fffff … four-leaf clover out of here,” she stutters at one stage) and there is an amusing setpiece when the fairies impose a kind of mass-hypnotic time-freeze situation on an Italian wedding where a giant, grisly troll is about to run amok, so that Holly can neutralise the horrible beast without any of the humans there remembering afterwards what has happened. (Again, a bit of a men-in-black idea.) Images and characters bounce around like shapes on a screensaver and only McDonnell and Gad’s performances have any fizz. This is a YA-franchise by numbers.
Available on Disney+ from 12 June.