It’s only fitting that, in a year that started as chaotic evil and has only proceeded to double down in efforts to be the epitome as such, the entertainment industry follows suit. Artemis Fowl, now streaming on Disney+ after numerous delayed releases, definitely fills that role.
As a kid, I absolutely loved Eoin Colfer’s original series about the prodigious young criminal mastermind, his bodyguard (aptly named Butler), and their complicated relationship with the many inhabitants of the Fairy world. In the books, Colfer paints Artemis as the ultimate anti-hero – brilliant, egotistic, and perversely loyal to his family name alone. As the series progresses over 8 books, Artemis slowly begins to evolve and learn the importance of compassion, remorse, and love. But even in his improved state, Artemis remains a deeply flawed criminal mastermind.
The hour and a half-long movie needlessly uncomplicates Artemis and reflects none of this nuance. Gone are the subtle lessons encouraging kids to reach within themselves in times of adversity, or the thought-provoking discussions of good and evil. Instead of drawing you in with his incomparable wit and ability to always be two steps ahead, Artemis is shown as a bland, somewhat naive boy whose daddy issues make him reliant on Butler and a whole lot of luck.
If the lack of nuance was irritating, the lack of coherent plot was even more so. Artemis Fowl inexplicably veers from the first book and attempt to cobble together a story from several of the later novels, while also throwing in additional characters for seemingly no real reason. The movie is similarly wholly a train wreck when it comes to editing, with numerous storylines introduced and rapidly tossed aside with little explanation or fleshing out.
I was willing to be flexible – sometimes it’s just not logistically possible for a movie adaptation to the plot of its basis. That’s why it’s called an adaptation. But edits to a plotline are generally supposed to make the movie more digestible or coherent in a shorter amount of time (see: The Lord of the Rings, which did the opposite of suck!). Here, director Kenneth Branagh and team did…whatever the literal opposite of that is called. After watching the movie with three friends, neither of the two who did not read the books were able to articulate the storyline, while the two of us who had were left wondering if we had somehow managed to remember the entire thing wrong.
I’m a firm believer that even a badly written movie can be partially redeemed by good acting. Unfortunately, Artemis Fowl doesn’t even have that going for it. Despite appearances by names like Judi Dench and Colin Farrell, the cast also falls largely flat. For titular actor Fredia Shaw, it’s marginally excusable since he’s basically making his acting debut and is still a child. But honestly, what’s Josh Gad’s excuse? I didn’t ask for a grungy, verbose version of Hagrid with half the character development! Even the overblown CGI – courtesy of the whopping $125 million budget – couldn’t distract us from how wooden and forced the acting in this movie is. (What did that budget go towards, by the way? Emotional reparations for the cast? Definitely not towards making the movie actually watchable, that’s for sure).
You might be wondering: Why is this woman so worked up about a kids movie? It’s not a big deal! Bad movies happen. And it’s true – bad movies do happen. But especially in a time where we’re coming to terms with the fact that kids understand and internalize more from a younger age than we give them credit for, a sanitized, poorly written, and abysmally acted Artemis Fowl is the last thing they need to watch in quarantine. Artemis Fowl was bold and resonated because Eoin Colfer didn’t talk down to us as children – he recognized that we needed an accessible way to learn that good and evil are not always going to be clearcut, and that right and wrong will translate to real-life situations that look more alike than different more frequently than we’re prepared for.
Disney, on the other hand, hasn’t learned that there’s no reason to underestimate the emotional complexity of kids, and has successfully alienated any potential adult fans of what they appear to be trying to make another storied franchise. It’s a damn shame, it’s a disappointment, and it’s downright treasonous to the Fowl name. Excuse me while I go say a prayer that time travel is actually real so I can un-waste the last hour and a half of my life and use it on something that’s less painful and more entertaining.
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