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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Kenneth Branagh
scr Conor McPherson, Hamish McColl
prd Kenneth Branagh, Judy Hofflund
with Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, Colin Farrell, Judi Dench, Nonso Anozie, Tamara Smart, Joshua McGuire, Nikesh Patel, Adrian Scarborough, Gerard Horan, Hong Chau
release UK/US 12.Jun.20
20/UK Disney 1h34
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With a brisk story and visually inventive design work, this fantasy adventure zooms through its wacky story with a refreshing sense of offhanded humour. Unlikely director Kenneth Branagh keeps the pace snappy and imagery colourful, which holds the interest even if it sacrifices engaging developments in the movie's plot and characters. And while wackiness holds the interest, the action set-pieces feel both superfluous and overcomplicated with mythology and effects.
In Ireland, 12-year-old genius Artemis (Shaw) is bored with school and loves spending time with his antiques expert father (Farrell) hearing stories about goblins and fairies. When Dad goes missing, suspected of being a criminal mastermind, Artemis' butler/bodyguard Dom (Anozie) reveals the true nature of his father's work, and that there really is a vast underground magical realm. Dad has been kidnapped by a good fairy gone bad (Chau). So Artemis will need to team up with young 84-year-old fairy Holly (McDonnell), who wants to clear her own late father's name.
The film is compromised by its continually shifting perspective, which never settles down. Scenes are viewed through Artemis' and Holly's eyes, as well as narrator Mulch (Gad), a thieving dwarf, and the short-tempered fairy Commander Root (Dench). Everyone is looking for the Aculos, an object that will solve their respective problems, and the majority of the film's running time takes place during a military siege during which Root deploys Mulch to break into Fowl Manor, an operation that's complicated by a weaselly spy (McGuire) in Roots' ranks.
Shaw is solid as Artemis, although the character is pretty much entirely lost in the kerfuffle. His best scenes are those in which Artemis drops his smartypants Men in Black-style bravado and reveals the little boy inside. There's a bit more to McDonnell's Holly, although she's just as relentlessly intrepid. Since the surrounding characters are less sure of themselves, they're easier to identify with, and played with scene-stealing glee by a cranky Dench, cheeky Gad, wry Anozie and knowing Farrell.
After rushing through the events, the film finally calms down for an extended coda in which some characterisation is allowed to emerge. Otherwise, it's basically a three-hour script crammed into 90 minutes, so nothing quite lands. The youthful lead characters may help kids connect with the movie, which of course sets up an ongoing franchise (author Eoin Colfer has written nine novels so far). And young children may enjoy the frantic pace, while for grown-ups it's at least never boring. And it doesn't overstay its welcome.
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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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