Wow… after this & Cats…Judi Dench really needs to fire her agent. Let’s make one thing absolutely clear before I start this review. I have not read one page of any of the ARTEMIS FOWL young adult series. So this review is going to be based solely on if it did or didn’t work for me as a film. Also, originally my wife was going to write a review and the title to it was already set to ‘Diane’s Delightful Movie Reviews’ until I just changed it. Unlike me, she has read all the Artemis Fowl books and when the end credits rolled, she told me just to write one of my reviews and just tell people what she thought. She didn’t want to write hers because, “It would take too long. My review would just list the ways that the book differs from the film, and it would be one long endless complaint.” Eh, I kind of lied just there. That was paraphrasing. What actually came out of her mouth was, “It was meh, I don’t want to write the review anymore.” And then she explained to me how they were different. Well, after watching the movie and after hearing all the differences between the two, I do actually want to go and read all the books, but that statement doesn’t bode well for the movie. While I didn’t hate it as much as critics or lovers of the novel did, it did not work for me as a film, to say the least. It really was just, “meh.” And that is ultimately disappointing, because there are some elements in the film that hint of a world full of magical and interesting possibilities. But that’s just what they are, hints. No execution of actual magic whatsoever.
Doing a tiny bit of research, this movie was supposed to come out theatrically last August, as it was filmed back in 2018. But then in May of 2019, it was delayed to May 29th, 2020, without any reasoning behind the move other than marketing for the film was not ready besides a very generic teaser poster. Then on April 3rd, 2020, the film was delayed yet again, because of…you guessed it, fucking COVID-19. It didn’t have a release date after that for a little bit, but then Disney announced that it was just going to dump the film on their streaming service Disney+ instead of just delaying it theatrically any further. Which wasn’t a good sign for the quality of the film at all. According to Vulture.com: “Disney moving the film straight to streaming was viewed as “”the death knell for Artemis as a film franchise”” by industry insiders, because “the platform’s subscription revenues are incapable of generating a return on investment that would justify the movie’s $125 million price tag.” Combine that with everything else sent to PVOD because of the pandemic, save for The Wretched and The King of Staten Island, have all been mediocre at best, I knew that when pressing the play button on the movie late yesterday evening, that I probably wasn’t going to like the film. I was correct, but the bar was set so low that I probably didn’t hate it as much as you book lovers think I probably should have. But don’t twist my words, the movie is not good.
Per IMDB.com and Rotten Tomatoes.com, the movie is “Based on the first two books in author Eoin Colfer wildly popular children’s fantasy series, Walt Disney Studios’ Artemis Fowl tells the story of adolescent criminal genius Artemis, who captures a vicious fairy, and attempts to harness her magical powers in a bid to rescue his family.” See how even that description is kind of vague? That is how thin the plot is. Most of the movie, I didn’t know what the fuck what going on until I paused it a couple of times and my wife Diane explained it to me. After the explanation, it was still a very thin plot to me, the description above is a little deceiving, with only hints of giant world building that the movie neglects to expand upon. Add to all that an extra helping of no character development and awful acting by the title character who played Artemis and…Judi Dench. The plot is, in a ho-hum nutshell, finding a MacGuffin Fairy Skeleton Key to find Artemis Fowl’s kidnapped father, played by Colin Farrell, obviously there for just a paycheck. Was the overarching villain named Opal is way underdeveloped and hidden in shadows so they could’ve hired a more famous person to portray her in later movies? Not the best idea. Just because it worked in Harry Potter, doesn’t mean that it’s going to work here. The only character to have some kind of development, even being razor thin itself, is Mulch Diggums, played surprisingly not annoyingly by Josh Gad, who is the only actor in this that looks like they want to be there.
Judi Dench is awful in this. When she shows up on screen, her voice is gravelly and nasally, she looks bored and also like she doesn’t have a clue what was going on. Same with the audience. In fact, I probably didn’t place all the pieces together until about an hour into the film, and by then, with only a half hour left, the movie climaxes on just one action set piece that took place inside a house, that wasn’t interesting in the least. Half of it was swinging back and forth on a chandelier with quick cuts and a CGI Troll villain, whose design was so fake and embarrassing it made Steppenwolf from Justice League face palm himself. This whole world was underdeveloped. You cannot take a novel, even at a shorter 280 pages, and condense it into only a 95 minutes film. But the fact that it is supposed to be an adaptation of the first two novels is even more head scratching. What is also confusing is that the CGI and visuals, with the exception of the awful looking troll, are actually a little striking. I liked the look of the underground lair of the fairies and the look of most of the technology, especially the Time Freeze device. There is something magical here, its just really difficult to see what that is, unless I eventually pick up the novel. But after I read that, I have a feeling I’m going to truly despise this film. And for some reason, I don’t blame Kenneth Branaugh, who has directed some truly great looking pictures such as Marvel’s Thor and one of Disney’s few, great, live action remakes, Cinderella. He has an eye for the camera, and some of his shots are steady and gorgeous to look at. If he had a tighter script that was a faithful adaptation of the novel with more flair, world building, and character development…a film that actually took its time to introduce the viewer, especially non fans, to this fantastical environment, there could’ve been something Harry Potter level great here.
But alas, just like the two Percy Jackson movies, this fails on all levels. Both movies have the same faults of not adapting the material to the best of their abilities. And the studios and scripts are to blame. Artemis Fowl’s script, was co-written by a guy used to doing just stage plays and the other guy wrote…fucking Johnny English Reborn and fucking…Mr. Beans Holiday. Yeah, you need veterans in Hollywood that know their shit, in fact, Disney, why the fuck didn’t you just get Harry Potter’s Steve Kloves??? I’m sure he had time in his schedule to give you something solid. But instead, you get a hazy, blurry, jumbled mess of a world that was supposed to introduce fairies, trolls, & other mythical beings in a cool twist on the espionage adventure film. To me, just basing this film on its own merits, taking that it was a novel first out of the equation, everything we got was just a giant fucking misfire. Nothing was interesting, nothing was exciting, I didn’t understand most of it, everything was boring. Just a few little hints here and there of potential. Potential that was ignored to just put a mediocre product out on the market. How does this happen? Why wasn’t more care brought to this property? Just like author Rick Riordan came out and said that he hates the Percy Jackson films, I bet you author Eion Colfer eventually does the same thing. Maybe Disney will extend the chance they are giving to Riordan to come up with his own mini series, that adapts the source material faithfully and with more flair. I bet you that ends up happening if the Percy Jackson Disney+ series is a success both commercially and critically. But for right now, this film is what it is: an adaptation that will put casual movie goers and critics like me into a confused sleep, and one that will most likely put fans of the novels into a foul…foul mood.