Artemis Fowl Disney Plus

Nonso Anozie, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad and Ferdia Shaw

Artemis Fowl is a failure at every level

Disney’s long-gestating adaptation of the popular young adult book series is 90-some minutes of uninviting gobbledygook.

For all the hand-wringing and lamenting about the intellectual bankruptcy of Hollywood these days, I don’t think there has been anything quite as dispiriting and laborious as the perpetual search for “the next Harry Potter.” Because the answer to a cultural phenomenon has always been to try and replicate it as closely as possible, Hollywood has spent the last 20 years snatching up any and all Young Adult literary property in order to weave a Harry Potter-esque success out of it. That result has happened only twice, really, with the Hunger Games and Twilight series — nearly every other YA franchise has been dead on arrival. (You could, I suppose, make an argument for the Divergent and Maze Runner series, each of which produced several installments, but both of those sputtered out anticlimactically and left very little cultural imprint.) The potential for massive success is so high, however, that studios continue to put all of their weight behind these dubious projects — which is the only way something as misbegotten and deeply, thunderously uninteresting as Artemis Fowl can come into existence. 

The movie’s very existence seems cursed from the get-go, before you’ve even seen a single frame of it. In development since 2001 (!), this adaptation of the hugely popular novels by Irish author Eoin Colfer finds itself unceremoniously dumped directly to DisneyPlus due to COVID-19 concerns — but, let’s face it: DisneyPlus is not exactly hurting for content or money at the moment, and you’d think that a corporation of that size and stature could sit on a $150-million movie long enough to put it out when optimal. The fact is that there is no optimal time to unload such a colossal chunk of dogshit on the world, and thus the best way to wash your hands of it is to slip it by unnoticed on the same day that new Judd Apatow and Spike Lee movies are coming out. 

Artemis Fowl II (Ferdia Shaw) is a young Irish billionaire genius philanthropist playboy and whatever else you want to assign to him. He is extremely great at surfing and science (he single-handedly cloned a goat or some shit) and can rattle off the history of any piece of antique furniture. Most of this knowledge comes from his father (Colin Farrell), an antiquities dealer and globe-trotting make-things-happen-er who goes missing in the first 15 minutes of the film. As it turns out, Artemis Fowl Sr. isn’t just an antiques dealer — he might very well be a high-powered art thief. Nevertheless, he has fallen under the grip of a bunch of underground-dwelling fairies who want revenge for something or other. (Despite the fact that the first half hour of the film is almost exclusively people explaining things to each other back and forth — sometimes interrupted by a gravelly voiceover from Josh Gad as a “giant dwarf” named Mulch Diggums that does some further explaining — I have almost no idea how the world of Artemis Fowl is actually supposed to work.) The younger Artemis teams up with his father’s right-hand man Butler (Nonso Anozie) and Butler’s younger sister Juliet (Tamara Smart) in order to rescue his father. 

In case this wasn’t already overstuffed enough, there’s also a fairy cop named Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) who is sort of the other lead of the film, under the supervision of Commander Root (Judi Dench, who is playing a kind of Irish Yoda, I guess). The fairy police have to prevent the real world and the fairy world from mixing, which also has something to do with the giant dwarf played by Josh Gad. To be honest, I feel like I often resort to being kind of facetious when faced with recapping this kind of fantasy mumbo-jumbo when I like it. With Artemis Fowl, the mumbo-jumbo becomes an insurmountable hill from minute one, after which the viewer spends the remaining 90-some minutes clawing desperately as a mudslide of incoherent gobbledygook keeps us firmly at the bottom of said hill.

I don’t know the world of Artemis Fowl at all, but the film does seem to either take for granted that the audience is at least mildly familiar with the proceedings, or that said proceedings are so rich and fascinating that we’ll immediately be immersed into it. Quite the opposite happens, in fact: existing somewhere between Harry Potter and Star Wars with a dash of D&D thrown in to fully cloud the waters, Artemis Fowl is both extremely confident in its world-building capacities and absolutely inscrutable in the way it actually lays these things out. Full dialogue scenes exist only so characters can lob information at each other; information is doled out simply by having characters read books out loud to each other. 

Though it would be easy to place the blame squarely on screenwriters becoming overwhelmed by the granularity of what they’re adapting, it must be said that Artemis Fowl bears the obvious marks of a torturous post-production process. Directed with no great verve by Kenneth Branagh in full blockbuster cash-in mode, Artemis Fowl clocks in at a paltry 94 minutes. While I welcome the idea that torture should be as short as possible with open arms, it also seems inconceivable that material as dense as this could be served by such a short running time. Given the chaotic and incoherent nature of the film, however, I would venture a guess that this final product is a Hail-Mary “what you see is what you get” cut — the most presentable form of whatever it was that this was supposed to be, once upon a time. (The voiceover narration by Gad, which is accompanied by black-and-white sequences of his character being interrogated, also feel like a post-disaster attempt to steer things back on track.)

Suffice to say that there is no pleasure to be gleaned from Artemis Fowl except if, perhaps, you are a small child who has not quite grasped the concept of narrative yet and is quite content with any form of moving images, shapes and colours being thrust in front of you. Even then, they make hundreds and hundreds of hours of programming to fulfill those very needs every month, and none of them are Artemis Fowl. I have never been more confident in saying that there won’t be a sequel to this one. ■

Artemis Fowl is on DisneyPlus on Friday, June 12. Click here for more.

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