Long ago, in the storied days of 2001, Hollywood demonstrated that a YA book series could be made into a mega-successful film franchise with broad appeal across generations. Harry Potter was a phenomenon like no other, and, naturally, studios have been trying to cash in with knockoffs ever since. But, like the famous Aesop’s Fable, “The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg,” these greedy imitators have pulled the insides from a profitable and innovative idea only to leave a pile of useless goo lying on the floor. Case in point, Artemis Fowl, the newest disaster in a long line of gutted, failed wannabes.
I’ve not read the books the film is based on, but I doubt that matters much. In fact, it might even make things worse, as I understand the series is relatively highly regarded. At any rate, Artemis Fowl is an unbelievably amateurish production in nearly every regard. If I were director Kenneth Branagh — someone whose talents I generally have no qualms about — I’d be exploring my options about bringing back the Alan Smithee pseudonym.
I’m hard pressed to find a single element of this film worth complimenting or recommending. Between its incomprehensible story and lazy characters; cheap, poorly executed visual effects; and minuscule, vague and boring world-building, there is absolutely nothing to grab onto. The plot (if I dare call it by such a defined term) centers on a barely seen villain (played by three actors and voiced by a fourth?), a fairy police force (in full-on fairy riot gear, led by Judi Dench) and a spoiled, wholly unlikable rich kid (Ferdia Shaw) chasing a MacGuffin of “immense power,” or some such thing. It’s supposed to be a story about legends, lore and magic, but its ineptitude betrays anything of the sort.
Branagh, along with writers (and additional guilty parties) Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl, spend 90 minutes slogging through half-realized characterization, unforgivable dialogue and pointless tedium. Characters are introduced, forgotten, pointlessly brought back, then forgotten again. Story threads and continuity are out the window, as is pacing and any sense of immersion. All this leaves Artemis Fowl with no wonder, no magic, no relatability and no fun. Maybe this will help illustrate my point: My 5-year-old daughter (who can sit through a three-hour movie if it’s worth a damn) lasted 30 minutes, then left to go work on a puzzle instead. (After, she declared two thumbs and two toes down)
But, before any of these issues arise, there’s the matter of Artemis Fowl being yet another story about a privileged white kid who gets to do whatever he wants with near impunity. I’ve come to realize that these types of protagonists are harmful to children who are developing their own worldview and realizing their place in it — and I am way over that nonsense. Employing such a dated and tired character makes Artemis Fowl seem, at best, antiquated at only a few days old, and at worst hazardous to the development of well-rounded, compassionate kids. There are plenty of amazing stories out there ready to be told by a whole host of long overdue voices. Why is the same old, lily-white garbage being thrown at us over and over again?
Available to stream via Disney+