The definition of the word foul is “offensive to the senses,” which is a pretty good summation of the new Disney+ film, Artemis Fowl. This was one of the many movies Disney had set to come out in 2020 prior to COVID-19 shutting down the movie theaters. However, Artemis Fowl was the only movie Disney removed from their theatrical plans entirely, as they sent it directly to their Disney+ streaming service.
I have never read the Artemis Fowl books, nor do I really know anything about the story. I’d be curious to hear the opinion of someone who knows this property and whether or not the movie was in line with it.
That being said, I find this movie to be a trainwreck. The story is practically nonexistent, the acting is laughable, and the dialogue is horrendous. The visual effects are decent, as you would hope for a movie that cost Disney $125 million to make. Some reports say it could be even higher due to some reshoots.
I want to take a second and look at that number: $125 million: that is the same cost as over 31 Get Outs. That number isn’t even taking into consideration how much they spent on marketing the movie. By sending it directly to Disney+, there is no way Disney will be able to break even with this movie; a film that was clearly intended to start a brand new franchise. Unfortunately for them, Artemis Fowl is essentially dead upon arrival.
Artemis Fowl tells the story of Artemis Fowl, Jr. (Ferdia Shaw), a child prodigy who must embark on a journey when his father (Colin Farell) goes missing.
Where to begin? Oscar-nominated director Kenneth Branagh helms this film, which you would never be able to guess from watching the movie. It feels far too ill-conceived for it to be made by someone of Branagh’s caliber. The screenplay was written by Conor McPherson and Hamish McColl, who sport a handful of writing credits each to their names. The script is incredibly dry and bland, filled to the brim with needless exposition.
I am not a fan of voice-over in movies, unless it is used for a very specific purpose (Fight Club is a good example of voice-over done right). I find that when a movie has a voice-over, it is mainly used to spoon-feed information to the audience instead of allowing the movie itself to convey it. Artemis Fowl is an excellent example of why voice-over often doesn’t work.
Josh Gad’s character of Mulch Diggums narrates most of the movie. The sole purpose of this voice-over is to explain every single detail to the audience. Instead of showing us who these characters are, Diggums just tells us who they are supposed to be. Diggums tells us that Artemis Fowl is a child prodigy; we never see it in the actual film. The first forty minutes of this movie (a film that is only an hour and a half long) is exclusively exposition, explaining every single detail without showing any of it to us.
Exposition like this creates an impersonal relationship between the audience and the characters. Our only exposure and understanding of these characters are through another character’s explanation of them, so it immediately puts a barrier between the audience and the characters. This technique can be used deliberately for a specific effect, but in the case of Artemis Fowl, it is used lazily to tell us about the characters instead of showing them.
Ferdia Shaw plays the titular character, and this is his first acting credit. I don’t want to harp too much on his acting in this film because he’s a child. Maybe after a few more years, Shaw will be able to refine his abilities and grow as an actor. Right now, however, in this movie, he is not good at all. His lines are entirely stale, and the character is simply not likable.
A lot of the blame for the acting falls on Branagh, as he is the one who is supposed to be getting the best performance possible out of Shaw, and it ultimately falls flat. When your leading performance simply doesn’t work, it’s hard for anything else to elevate the movie beyond it. The rest of the performances in the film are also lackluster. With every scene, it feels like the actors are simply reading lines.
Josh Gad as Mulch Diggums is one of the worst parts of the film. I like Gad as an actor, and there are many movies where I think he does a good job. Gad’s character in this film is simply absurd. I won’t go into details, but there is one part where he extends his jaw in order to dig a hole, and it is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen in a movie. I could not believe what I had just watched. When you see the film, you’ll know exactly what part I am describing.
Judi Dench plays Commander Root, the leader of the fairies. Between this and her role in Cats, I wonder if Dench’s manager has some sort of personal grudge against her or if Dench has some overwhelming debts she needs to pay off and is taking any role she can possibly get. Judi Dench has been nominated for seven Oscars, and won one; she is too good of an actor to have back-to-back roles in Cats and Artemis Fowl.
In terms of worldbuilding, Artemis Fowl has some interesting ideas about this underground world of goblins, fairies, and dwarves that live in the center of the Earth unbeknownst to human society. However, it doesn’t go much farther beyond being an interesting concept.
Fantasy movies such as The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter go to extensive lengths to show us how their worlds work. It isn’t just about the concept; they convince you of the function of their worlds and make you believe that this can work the way they tell you it works. Artemis Fowl doesn’t do this at all.
Regarding its diversity, Nonso Anozie plays Artemis Fowl’s butler, Domovoi. The movie tries to get around this archaic stereotype by making an elaborate joke about how the one thing he hates is being called a butler, even though his last name is actually Butler. They say this as if it makes up for the fact that the one Black main character in the movie is in a subservient role.
Domovoi enlists his niece, Juliet (Tamara Smart), to join them in their quest. Despite the narration making Juliet out to be an important role, she is mainly kept as a background character who helps out during some of the action sequences. While none of the characters in the movie have much substance, Domovoi and Juliet are especially lacking.
Overall, Artemis Fowl is simply a horrendous movie: there’s barely a story here, as the film becomes just a series of scenes; the voice-over removes all of the character and narrative development, as it tells us who everyone is and exactly what is going on; the acting across the board is incredibly dull; the visual effects are decent, but that’s really the only positive thing I can say about this movie. For a film that is only an hour and a half long, I found myself consistently checking the clock and wondering how much time it had left.
I find there to be very little merit in this movie. Maybe someone who is familiar with the books will have a different experience with the film. It also may appeal to younger kids far more than it appealed to me. I think that movies made for children shouldn’t be made exclusively for children. Rather, I think they should be made for the wider audience and be made accessible to children. Pixar has really perfected this model, as anyone of any age can watch a Pixar movie and enjoy it.
Considering the amount of content on Disney+, I don’t think kids would even get that much out of this movie. There are plenty of other things for them to watch.
Author: Nathanael Molnar, originally published [6/14/2020]