Artemis Fowl movie review: falls foul of itself

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Artemis Fowl red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A disaster of a kids’ fantasy caper; feels like it’s making up the plot as it goes. A mishmash of manufactured wonder: characters barely sketched, action seemingly setting up future Disney World rides.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

What in the holy hell is this fowl mess?

I’m not sure I’ve seen a movie for kids this year that is this bad at telling an engaging story about people we can care about. And I’ve seen Dolittle. And Scoob!.

This is an absolute disaster of a fantasy-action-crime-comedy kiddie caper in which people are constantly saying things such as:

Artemis Fowl Colin Farrell
Be not seduced by the presence of Colin Farrell…

• “The fate of both our worlds was in the hands of young Artemis Fowl.” And yet there is categorically no sense of fundamental menace to anything at all here.

•“The Aculos, which is, need I remind you, the most precious artifact in our civilization…” Because this is definitely how people talk: “The Bible, which is, need I remind you, the foundational mythology of our culture…”

• “The kid’s plan was fiendishly clever,” except this movie feels like it’s making its plot up as it goes along, because we don’t know the ground rules of its invented world, and once we do learn some of them, they feel utterly arbitrary, and designed to help the plot limp along, not to create a cohesive imaginary world. Also the kid’s supposed genius seems to be about nothing else but papering over huge plot holes… at least inasmuch as I am able to parse the plot. I’m so tired.

• “I’m Artemis Fowl, and I’m a criminal mastermind.” Uh, no, what? This comes at the closing of the movie, and appears to be a summing up of what is clearly intended to be an origin story for a tween hero to launch a new franchise… and I don’t understand how anything about this story is supposed to be showing 12-year-old Artemis (newcomer Ferdia Shaw) in a light so negative. I mean, yeah, he is a huge middle-school jerk, but hardly criminal. Which would appear to be a whole ’nother problem with this movie. I haven’t read the YA series this is based on, but I can read a Wikipedia synopsis, and while the books overtly posit young Fowl as a villain — as an outright villain — he is in no way that here, and in fact goes out of his way to try to arrange things so that he will not be seen as a bad guy.

Artemis Fowl Nonso Anozie Lara McDonnell Josh Gad Ferdia Shaw
Worst Scooby gang ever…

I have used the expression “the mind boggles” before, and I thought I understood it, but my mind has not previously been boggled to this extreme.

If you’re confused right now, I promise you that I am much more coherent than this movie is.

Great ghost of Dumbledore! Artemis Fowl tromps along a tedious fantasy treadmill of secret magical worlds hidden from human eyes, and yet the fanciest flight here is the hope that this will actually fly in a way that captures the imaginations of Harry Potter fans. Maybe the books do. As I say, I have not read them. But this movie won’t. It is a mishmash of manufactured wonder in which characters are only barely sketched, moments meant to be moving land with a thud, and all the action is apparently setting up future Disney World thrill rides (and not even doing that well).

The fanciest flight here is the hope that this will actually fly in a way that captures the imaginations of Harry Potter fans. This seems unlikely.

Here we have yet another Disney movie in which the young protagonist has a dead mother — which is not the case in the books, and WTF, screenwriters Conor McPherson (I Went Down) and Hamish McColl (Paddington, Johnny English Reborn)?! Artemis is out to rescue his father, who has been kidnapped by a nebulous supernatural baddie because of Reasons we never understand. (Colin Farrell [The Gentlemen, Dumbo] plays Artemis Fowl Sr, and he is barely in the movie, so don’t let his presence tempt you, as it did me.) It’s something to do with the aforementioned Aculos, which is nothing but a macguffin, although one with, I will grant, the power to throw a Band-Aid over the plot when it dead-ends. Everything is being told in flashback, by a giant dwarf — this is the height of the film’s humor: a giant dwarf — called Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad: Frozen II, The Angry Birds Movie 2), because dwarves like to dig *groan*, and not only is the narration an endlessly annoying array of infodumps, it also doesn’t make any sense. Like, is Mulch an unreliable narrator who isn’t telling the truth, and if he is telling the truth, why doesn’t it hang together?

Artemis Fowl Judi Dench
Oh, Judi, not again

Also this movie is essentially racist for saying that dwarves are constitutionally unable to stop themselves from stealing. Really? They are all pickpockets? All of them? (Is this in the books? If so, the books suck.) And if this is the case, why is the entire race of dwarves criminalized for their escapable nature? (This is all played as a joke.)

Also also: Judi Dench (Red Joan, Murder on the Orient Express) is here as the gruff commander of fairy law enforcement — the Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance, or LEP-Recon *groan* — because obviously Cats was not embarrassment enough for her. Maybe she owed a favor to director Kenneth Branagh?

Wait, really? Branagh (Cinderella, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) directed this? Branagh?

I’m so tired.

‘Artemis Fowl’ is streaming globally on Disney+.

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Sun, Aug 16, 2020 3:59pm

this is the height of the film’s humor: a giant dwarf

One of the Marvel movies already did this with 20 foot tall Peter Dinklage. Thor: Ragnarok?

Also this movie is essentially racist for saying that dwarves are constitutionally unable to stop themselves from stealing. Really? They are all pickpockets? All of them?

Eww, considering how often dwarves are given Jewish traits. As if Harry Potter’s goblin bankers weren’t bad enough.

Sun, Aug 16, 2020 3:59pm

It’s sad that, after adapting so many Shakespeare plays into films, Branagh couldn’t make the stylized language sound believable here. I love the unnatural diction in Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and, when I’m in a patient mood, in works by David Milch and David Mamet and Wes Anderson. And, of course, Norton Juster got the giant dwarf joke to work in The Phantom Tollbooth. So I think I’m going to read your review, imagine the movie this could have been, and be relieved that I don’t subscribe to Disney+.

Sun, Aug 16, 2020 3:59pm

I read the books at least a decade ago, and all I remember is the mulch-eating scene.
I am very glad that this piece of art has transcended from page to screen.

Blue Twenty
Sun, Aug 16, 2020 3:59pm

This film has been in development hell for nearly a decade. It’s a shame, because the books (well, the first few, before it turns into a cash cow…) are some of the pinnacle of kids’ fiction, not least for having the protagonist be an out-and-out villain and still a child (notwithstanding the fact that he gradually mellows as the books go on…) Essentially, book!Artemis is your stock crabby uncle character transposed into a precocious kid, and yet, it works like a dream.

This review hits the nail on the head of most of my issues with the film. Additional issues would include the fact that the lead actor looks about three years too young – Artemis should be just about a preteen, not a kid who looks about 8 or 9 swallowed by an ill-fitting suit – and the fact that this adaptation changes a character who in the source material is almost entirely self-reliant into someone who needs to follow his father’s lead to get anywhere.

The mind boggles at why you as a screenwriter would make the active choice to, in a story aimed at a kid market, disempower your kid protagonist.

Sun, Aug 16, 2020 3:59pm

Artemis Fowl book 1 is kinda like Die Hard with Artemis as a very irritating Hans Gruber. Artemis kidnaps a fairy to hold for ransom, because he knows the Lower Elements Police reconnaissance force has a sum of gold set aside for this purpose. (geddit? LEPRecon gold?) Unfortunately for him, this fairy happens to be Captain Holly Short who quickly makes things difficult for him. Though she doesn’t get a “Now I have a machine gun” moment, because the LEP decide to take things off the rails by escalating the situation with a series of brute force “rescue” attempts. (Such as sending in a troll to kill Artemis, nuking the mansion with anti-life radiation etc.) They basically become the antagonist for the rest of the book. The basics are, Artemis is a little shit criminal, Holly is a hotheaded cop, elements of the fairy police are more interested in killing Artemis than they are getting Holly out. Also, pretty sure Fowl senior was captured by Russian mobsters who he was trying to defraud. It was a pretty edgy series, made for edgy 12 year old boys. I have no idea why this movie was made.