Maybe everything I loved as a child is secretly terrible. With the only book series I adored that was turned into functionally watchable cinema being written by a TERF and a bigot, I’m now left to relive one of the great pains of my childhood, something I had long thought I had moved past. The last time this happened to me, as it had happened many times before with Eragon, The Lightning Thief, Ender’s Game, The Golden Compass, A Series of Unfortunate Events, roughly half the Chronicles of Narnia films, etc, etc, etc…was the film adaptation of The Giver in 2014. One of the last pure relics from my childhood had been mangled and manhandled, and while I’ll always have Lois Lowry’s seminal dystopian text, the film was added to the list of empty cash-ins and atrociously ugly re-release book covers. At least there wasn’t anything left, barring somebody actually doing something with the rights to the Daniel X books, or God forbid, Artemis Fowl, a project so long in development hell that over a decade ago my copy of the original novel had “soon to be a major motion picture” slathered on its cover. But nobody cares about Eoin Colfer’s wonderful and weird fantasy/crime hybrid anymore, so I suppose it can stay in the box, a beacon among the morsels of obscure and forgotten but distinctly modernist genre fiction that enraptured me in my youth and turned me into the creative, obsessive shut-in I am today.
It was stories like Artemis Fowl that led me to fall in love with contemporary literature and film and interactive stories, and I will always have that memory. To you, Mr. Colfer, whose book still lies on my old bookshelf filled with tattered paperbacks by you and your peers, I thank you. And to you, Mr. Kenneth Branagh, who found yourself on the receiving end of making a long-agreed to be disintegrated film…I pity you. Because you’re a talented fellow, arguably the only contemporary filmmaker to understand both Shakespeare and Walt Disney in equal measure, and your film has been dragged through the dirt this weekend. It doesn’t look like your fault that Artemis Fowl is an ugly, lifeless husk of a film birthed out of an executive throwing a dart at a board littered with acquired properties, but you’re getting the short end of the stick, which is unfair when considering the clearly visible destructive dissonance between the ambitious and bizarre story and the perpetual need to pour more and more money into the cinematic equivalent of white noise, a film that happens but only barely, so structurally and aesthetically bland that its sparse attempts at flourish are both laughably bizarre and the only thing keeping my attention. A hand-held slow-motion fight scene for 20 seconds where the camera moves faster than my fingers typing this? Sure, why not. Josh Gad unhinging his jaw like a snake? Remember when he was nominated for a Tony and was an integral part in the modern revolution of Broadway musicals? Well, now he’s in this.
So apparently, this film hit a nerve with me that I did not realize could still be hit. At least it’s nice to know I still can be hurt.
Artemis Fowl, originally planned to release in theaters before being relegated to the dark corner of Disney+ that I go diving in whenever this website comes calling my pretty little name, is adapted from the aforementioned 2001 novel by Eoin Colfer. Fairies, goblins, dwarves, and the like live unbeknownst to humans, and the trope was only a little tired back in the early 2000s, so it’s okay. The youngest in a line of criminal masterminds, the titular Fowl (Ferdia Shaw, who I offer no blame whatsoever for not being able to pull off a very complicated role even in this sanitized, sanded-down state by account of his being a child) has this underworld revealed to him when his father (Colin Farrell) is held captive by a pixie asking for the all-powerful fairy device, the Aculos, that Artemis Sr. had stolen some time before. Through a convoluted and complicated plot where Artemis kidnaps a young fairy cop, Holly (Lara McDonnell), attempting to demand the device, which is in Artemis’ house, from the fairies, leading to…hijinks? It’s hard to tell what tone Artemis Fowl is exactly going for, because it has the soulless joviality of a traditional blockbuster, but it’s also a movie that so desperately wants to set up a franchise that implies a complete destruction of human society to come in a few films that will never be made. It’s a small-scale film that never takes advantage of its massive world, instead twiddling its thumbs around a few locations as it waits for the vacuous 95 minutes to pass, slowly and without any fanfare.
There are so many things to complain about with Artemis Fowl, as it is a movie with a negligible amount of positive qualities. It’s ugly as sin, somehow both a slap in the face to the source material as well as so dense and obtuse in its worldbuilding that it has no value outside of an audio-visual guide for fans of the books, written, filmed, and acted with neither a shred of the malicious and delicious personality from the books nor the cookie-cutter four-quadrant default personality that serves as a baseline for anything budgeted over $100 million.
Artemis Fowl isn’t just an awful film, and the worst one I’ve seen in 2020, because it’s a bad adaptation. It’s an atrocious void that deserves every lick it’s been given not at its creators, but at whichever faceless guy in a suit decided that now was the time to shove this much money into something. It’s also a horrific bastardization of a series that meant a lot to me as a child. To think I would have been there opening night with stars in my eyes if this had come out when I was a kid. The only thing I like about this film is that it had the decency to wait until I was old enough for this to not hurt too much.