My 2 Cents on Disney’s Artemis Fowl
What’s new, readers? I just want to give a huge shout-out to the Gen Z users of TikTok and the K-pop fans who bought up all those seats at Trump’s Tulsa rally yesterday. This is fantastic—the young people banding together to make their political voices heard, bring about change, and stand against racism. And it’s happening on top of other positive developments—many Americans recently becoming aware of Juneteenth (even though the holiday has been around for 155 years), the Atlanta police officer who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks in the back being charged with murder, and Quaker Oats retiring the Aunt Jemima brand because of its racist origins (and it only took them 130 years). Now, we still have to deal with COVID-19 (or as Trump calls it, Kung Flu—🙄). It still disturbs me that the virus can spread through “plumes” that geyser from the toilet when you flush it. That’s why you always have to close the lid. But the Tulsa rally—it’s exactly the thing we need to boost our spirits.
Now, let’s get down to business, because I’m eager to give my two cents on the monstrosity that Disney dropped on their streaming service recently: the film adaptation of Artemis Fowl, the children’s fantasy series by Eoin Colfer. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the books, they center around the eponymous Artemis Fowl—a twelve-year-old Irish boy who stands as the prodigy of the Fowl family’s flagging criminal enterprise—and his various shady endeavors that make him cross paths with the inhabitants of Haven City, a secret subterranean world of fairies, elves, sprites, goblins, centaurs, and other magical creatures that are protected by the high-tech LEPrecon (Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance) Unit. If you’re into thrilling action, memorable characters, wry banter, hardboiled prose, and intricate plots, the books will most likely appeal to you.
Now, you’d think the director, Kenneth Branagh, and the screenwriters, Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl, would be capable of giving us a top-notch Artemis Fowladaptation that stays loyal to Colfer’s source material. Sure, we saw what happened with Percy Jackson, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Golden Compass, Divergent, Eragon, The Darkest Minds, et cetera. But maybe things will be different this time around, right?
Nope, not a chance. This soul-sucking excuse for a movie is no different from those adaptations. Here’s the one-sentence synopsis: a villainous pixie named Opal Koboi (Hong Chau) has kidnapped Artemis Fowl I (Colin Farrell), forcing his son Artemis II (Ferdia Shaw) to abduct an elvish LEPrecon officer, Holly Short (Lara McDonnell), and hold her up for ransom so he can obtain an acorn-shaped artifact called the Aculos and trade it to Opal, who will then free his father. The majority of the plot points are based on the first book in Colfer’s series, though it also takes some material from the second entry, The Arctic Incident.
Look, we all knew this would be a flop back when that trailer dropped earlier this year and revealed just how much the movie was going to deviate from the novels, but I didn’t expect it to make me implore higher forces for mercy numerous times (and they didn’t even answer once). The screenplay brims with laziness and incompetence, which misfortunate viewers can discern through, among many other aspects, the hackneyed and overwrought plot. It’s very difficult to understand the crap that’s going on, and the movie jumps from scene to scene with little to no breathing room in between. It doesn’t help that this damn Aculos gets thrown into the mix as the most generic MacGuffin ever with obscure supernatural powers to propel the story. I definitely don’t care for all the clunky exposition, part of which involves a kleptomaniac dwarf named Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) narrating throughout the movie and obnoxiously over-explaining plot points.
Most of the actors are mediocre in their parts, but a couple of the performances are especially inept. Shaw, who’s apparently the grandson of English actor Robert Shaw, was terribly miscast in the titular role. This is his first acting gig, and that’s made unforgivably apparent to the viewers. Honestly, did he get any training at all for this? I also find McDonnell’s tendency to ham up her lines as Holly just as cringeworthy.
The dialogue ranges from wooden to just plain ludicrous. How did some of these lines avoid the blue pencil? One example is when Opal recruits LEPrecon officer Briar Cudgeon to act as a mole for her—“I spy?” he asks, to which she responds, “You spy or you die.” Here’s another gem from Opal: “Some said I was mad. They wouldn’t listen to me. Guess what? They’re listening now.” It was these type of lines that stirred up my repressed memories of Dr. Watts’s cake offer (I wonder how many people will get that reference).
This cinematic scourge is already appalling enough purely from a film standpoint. However, it’s even worse for fans of the novels, like me, since the movie is so breathtakingly unfaithful to the source material. In Colfer’s series Artemis is a calculating, greedy, and selfish boy for whom hatching ingenious heists and schemes is a favorite pastime. We immediately get a taste of his criminal-mastermind persona in the first book when it opens with him poisoning a fairy and then giving her an antidote in exchange for the Book, an invaluable guide he deciphers in order to gain knowledge about the fairy world. More than that, he’s a well-drawn and endearing antihero whose redemption arc naturally unfolds over the course of eight entries. However, Branagh and the screenwriters decided to make significant changes to his character so he could be more appealing, because God forbid Disney gives us a protagonist with gray morals. So they butchered my boy, turning him into nothing more than a banal “chosen one.” His father is depicted similarly, because of course he can’t be the notorious crime lord that Colfer depicts him as in the books. No, in the movie he’s an antiques dealer who’s responsible for keeping the existence of fairykind secret from humans and stopping the two species from breaking out into war. Side note: Farrell was only on set for three days, so at least he didn’t have to do much to cash his check.
Holly has an entire arc in the first book concerning her being the first female LEPrecon officer and the challenges she faces in her male-dominated profession, but that’s completely erased in the movie. It also kills off Angeline Fowl, Artemis’s mother, even though she’s alive in the books. In the first one, after Artemis I goes missing, she falls into a deep depression that renders her bedridden with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Through the heartrending interactions she has with her son, readers get a glimpse at the twelve-year-old heart beating underneath his pathologically conniving exterior, and it helps you empathize with him that much more. Not that I’m saying the movie would have been better if it included Angeline—we don’t need to add “offensive representation of mental health” to the lengthy list of crimes it commits.
The one thing I can commend this abomination for is restraining itself to a runtime of an hour and a half. If the editors dared to let it last as long as two hours, I would have had to subject my brain to a juice cleanse. Even then, I had to endure multiple bouts of bewilderment, rage, and agony thanks to this accursed movie. Obviously the major issues above are to blame, but there’s also a motley of maddening mistakes that only serve to pour vinegar on a salt-coated wound.
— Why is Artemis surfing on the coast of Ireland in the first five minutes? He’s not athletic in any sense in the books.
— Why does Mulch look like Hagrid’s kid brother?
— What’s up with Mulch being a “tall dwarf”? This was never in the books. Did they insert that detail solely because they were too lazy to make Josh Gad short? They should have picked up some tricks from LOTR.
— Why does Artemis have to drop that stupid milk bottle in slo-mo upon finding out his father is missing? One of the cheesiest shots in this whole torturefest.
— Why does Mulch listen to Foreigner on the music player he pickpockets from Holly? It feels like an unfunny Guardians of the Galaxyrip-off.
— Why do they call Artemis’s bodyguard, Domovoi Butler (Nonso Anozie), by his first name instead of his surname? You only call him Butler in the books, yet Mulch makes this big deal in the movie out of how you can call him Dom or Domovoi, but never “the Butler.” It’s patently clear how little Branagh and the screenwriters cared about the movie that they couldn’t even get this detail right.
— Why is it that Butler’s niece, Juliet (Tamara Smart), does nothing in the movie but bring Artemis a sandwich?
— Why is Opal dressed in a hoodie that makes her look like a mugger who I might encounter in a dark alley? Why is her face always cloaked in darkness? Why is her voice so annoyingly raspy? Really, why does she exist at all in this movie? She doesn’t even appear in the book series until the second installment. Same goes for her minion, Cudgeon.
— What the hell is going on with Judi Dench? I thought maybe her role as Commander Root, the head of LEPrecon, would be a small cameo like Farrell, but nope, she dedicated a good chunk of her time to the movie. Cats is one thing for an actor of her caliber, but now this? I’m getting concerned about her. Is she planning to boot her agent?
— How does Artemis have the audacity to call himself a criminal mastermind at the end of the movie? His onscreen depiction is an insult to such a title.
It’s interesting that Disney chose to dump Artemis Fowl on Disney Plus, considering they’re willing to wait out the pandemic for releasing other big-budget flicks like Black Widow and the live-action Mulan remake in theaters. It’s like they knew Artemis Fowl, which cost them a budget of $125 million, would be a disaster. And the more I think about, the more baffled I am by the fact that Kenneth Branagh helmed this train wreck. It’s not as if this is his first rodeo; his directing credits include Henry V, the first Thor movie in the MCU, the live-action reboot of Cinderella, and the adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. How does someone with his experience goof up so extravagantly? It’s one thing to stray drastically from the source material, but it’s another thing entirely to make a movie that’s so abhorrent it earns a score of nine percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Nine percent—the lowest rating for any Disney premiere, which crushes any chance there might have been for a sequel.
To reiterate, Artemis Fowl is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my life and it’s a blasphemous stain on the book series. Hopefully, it will be rebooted as a TV series à la His Dark Materials on BBC, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix, Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments on ABC’s Freeform, or the upcoming Percy Jackson series on Disney Plus. Wait, Disney? Well, Rick Riordan is supposed to have creative control over the project, so maybe it could work out this time around . . . ?
All my love and prayers go to you, readers. Stay strong, stay healthy, and keep wearing facemasks and fighting for BLM.
Windup score: 5/100