There’s a part of me that feels bad for Artemis Fowl. Based on a series of young adult novels, the film adaptation of this series has been in development hell since 2001 and has gone through multiple writers and directors. It was supposed to release in August of last year before being delayed to April of this year, before being delayed once more to June because of Covid-19, resulting in it getting a straight to Disney+ release. Disney isn’t going to be making back its $125 million dollars they spent on production and what was probably meant to be the start of a new young adult film franchise is now dead before it could even take off.
The sad thing is that I love the premise of the books despite never reading them growing up. Artemis Fowl is a kid in charge of a criminal empire who takes sociopathic pleasure in becoming more powerful and wealthy. He learns about a secret world of magic through a drunk sprite and proceeds to ransom a captured fairy for copious amounts of gold in the first book. The kid is an unrepentant anti-hero at best and straight-up evil at worst and I would have loved to read a series like that when I was growing up. Unfortunately I never did, so this movie is my first real introduction to the franchise. What I’m about to say comes from the perspective of a complete newcomer.
That being said, Artemis Fowl gives off the same vibes as 2010’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. I couldn’t stand this and I’m sure that fans are even more enraged than I am.
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Release Date: June 12, 2020 (Disney+)
It’s hard to figure out where to start with Artemis Fowl. There’s so much to unpack about how nearly everything in this movie either doesn’t work or disappoints, but let’s try and take this slowly. This is a loose adaptation of the first and second novels in the series where Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw), a misunderstood and hyper-intelligent kid, learns from his father about the world of faeries and magic. Fowl doesn’t believe him, but when he finds out that his dad was kidnapped by a mysterious villain looking for an object called the Aculos, Artemis does whatever he can to find the Aculos and rescue his father from the clutches of evil.
To the fans of the book that just read that summary; I’m sorry. Look, I never read the series, and I won’t be focusing on the movie as an adaptation because I have no reference point to base my thoughts off of, but by just looking at the plot synopsis for the first book, I’m sorry for what they did to your franchise. I know this isn’t the series that you grew up with. I understand why you’re so pissed off. I saw one of my favorite franchises murdered before my very eyes as well. We share the same trauma.
It takes a special kind of bad to turn something inherently cool and make it as generic as possible. Artemis comes across like every other overconfident pre-teen YA protagonist and has no identity to him. He has no personality and he feels less like a character and more like a robot pretending to be one with the humans. I can’t really blame Shaw for his performance because he’s still a young actor, but I can most certainly blame the script for being so painfully sloppy. Dialogue comes across as cheap and basic. Characters will just state what they’re doing for all to hear and exposition is dropped on the audience like a morbidly obese elephant. Yes, exposition is necessary, but does a character really need to look at Artemis and go “Hey, remember that your mom died? Cause your mom died.”
Adding on to the poor script, Branagh directs everyone like they only have five seconds left to finish a scene. Characters will rush through their dialogue and have little to no emotional reaction to what is being said around them. It’s non-stop talking and non-stop action without ever giving the audience time to breathe. The movie moves at such a breakneck pace that characters will just be randomly introduced and interact with the cast like they’ve always been there. Such is the case with Juliet (Tamara Smart), who will randomly pop into scenes like she’s always been there. We’re told that she’s best friends with Artemis, which is told via narration and not through legitimate character interaction, but we never actually see it. We’re told that Dom (Nonso Anozie), Artemis’ butler, is a badass who could kill you in the blink of an eye, but we never see it. We’re just told these things without any context or development.
There’s hardly any effort on display in the final product. It’s almost like Artemis Fowl thinks it’s too much work to even bother telling us character motivations. For a movie that’s only 93 minutes, it feels like there are several scenes that were cut that should have been included in it. Artemis just randomly decides to trust his faerie prisoner Holly (Lara McDonnell) after sharing two conversations, while instantly teaming up with a dwarf named Mulch (Josh Gad) after exchanging a few words with him and meeting him a grand total of one time for five seconds.
For a movie that feels rushed, strangely not a lot happens inside either. After spending about 80 minutes establishing the conflict, it’s resolved in less than a minute with barely any resolution. The main villain, who is built up throughout the entire movie, is beaten off-screen with them shaking their fists in the air claiming that they’ll get their revenge. There are virtually no stakes and any hint at a larger conflict can’t even be bothered. It honestly feels like the movie ran out of money and so they had to shunt the resolution into five minutes. It would help to explain the poor CGI, which is evident whenever it’s on-screen. From literal time compressions to a badly rendered mansion, it’s painfully obvious when the movie opts to stick its cast in front of a green screen and call it a day.
It’s very clear that Disney wanted to try and start a franchise with this film, but because the resolution is so slap-dashed and half-hearted, it just left me angrier than anything else. Nothing of value was gained and it became abundantly clear 30 minutes into the movie that Disney, for all intents and purposes, Disneyfied it. They removed all personality from the movie in favor of making it as accessible as possible. It’s like every YA film adaptation you’ve ever seen, touting messages about friendship, family, and the power of teamwork. Gag me.
The only things that do stand out about Artemis Fowl are parts that stand out for all of the wrong reasons. Most of the cast have terrible Irish accents that feel more like a stereotype than authentic. I haven’t seen accents this bad since Russel Crowe was an Irish demon in Winter’s Tale. Josh Gad is typical Josh Gad, but made even worse as the movie tries to portray him as a dangerous criminal. I’m all for defying typecasting, but turning Olaf into a hardened thief is just laughable. Also it’s pretty laughable seeing him break his own jaw and have magic hair powers that help him pick locks. And then there’s Dame Judi Dench herself. I don’t know which was worse, her appearance here or her appearance in Cats. Between a pack a day voice, horrible Irish puns, and a ridiculous costume that probably serves as a career low, I had to remind myself that this is the same actress that won an Academy Award.
Artemis Fowl thinks it’s clever when it really isn’t. This is one of the safest movies I’ve seen in a long time. It doesn’t rock the boat, it doesn’t challenge its audience, and it certainly doesn’t entertain. This is the kind of garbage that wouldn’t even fly as a made for TV movie. It doesn’t even feel like it belongs on Disney+. This is on the same level as one of those mockbuster parodies that companies will produce on a dime in order to cash in off of other more popular releases. This feels like a knock-off of a knock-off, except there was no original movie to knock-off in the first place. It’s too lazy to go the extra mile, but worst of all, it doesn’t honor the spirit of the books. It’s like the movie intentionally sabotaged itself in the name of making everyone happy.
Well, mission accomplished Disney. You took a beloved series of YA books and made it into absolute garbage that no one is happy with. Good job.