Artemis Fowl is the recent addition to Disney+ created loosely from the novel of the same name by the extremely talented Eoin Colfer. Kenneth Branagh (Thor) directed this (spoiler alert) hot mess of an adaptation, and his Billy Buckner attempt to transfer such a deep and rich story to the big screen has resulted in one of the worst book-to-movie conversions in recent memory.
In the novel, a tech genius twelve-year-old uses his considerable talents to discover and dupe the Fairy world from a metric ton of gold, and save his family estate. He’s a criminal, but a complicated one. Fowl’s family is in shambles: his mom has lost her faculties and stays in bed for days at a time, his underworld kingpin dad is missing, and the estate and Fowl Manor are in deep trouble due to lagging finances. The heralded Fowl family name is in real trouble, and it falls on young Artemis and his incredibly talented and violent bodyguard, Butler, to discover and secure any resources available. Through research, a mastermind plan, and a few lucky turns of the screw, the fairy world is discovered by Artemis, the metric ton of gold is put into play, and the two worlds (humanity, fairy) collide. It’s an incredible read, and I’ll go so far as to place it in the top three or four young adult novels written in the last 30 years.
One would think, when handed the reins to such an established piece of literature with a rabid fan base, the powers-that-be would take it upon themselves to create a film that pays homage to the world and story created by Colfer in the book. Nah. Nah. Instead, Branagh and screenwriter Conor McPherson completely remodeled the characters, removed basic motivations for dynamic growth, scaled down (or removed completely) the complexity of the forces that drive the plot, and eliminated all of the stylistic elements that make the novel so cool. The end product is a watery, gooey substance that takes about 90 minutes to struggle through.
And it is indeed a struggle. The multiple, unrelated plot threads fizzle out like dud fireworks, the character motivations are either confusing or just plain ignored, and the dialogue is like watching a congressional debate on CNN about which color to paint road signs. The incredible, varying settings of the book are ignored, and instead the focus is only on the siege of Fowl Manor, which is reminiscent of a 7th grade Romeo and Juliet production.
One scene in particular stands out as so borderline ludicrous, it created an almost spoof feel. Artemis (Ferdia Shaw) and fairy Holly Short (Lara McDonnell), the two main protagonists, absolutely loathe each other due to various transgressions like shooting tranquilizer darts, kidnapping, theft, etc. Artemis suddenly changes direction and asks Holly if he can trust her because both of them have daddy issues. She accepts and they suddenly become best friends with a deep connection, and they fight together to right all the wrongs. It’s not developed with even a modicum of cinematic grace. The viewer is simply supposed to accept this screeching of the brakes and hard-right turn because a poorly designed and wholly boring CGI troll is coming to kill everyone. If you’re not confused to this point, you haven’t been paying attention. The undeveloped and unexplained plot limps to the inevitable conclusion, and my guess is, if you’ve hung on this far into the film, the end credits are a welcome sight.
If you’ll forgive another interruption here, I’ll just mention that Butler (Nonso Anozie) is by far one of the most intriguing side characters you’ll find in any young adult fiction novel. His crowning achievement in the first installment of the Artemis Fowl novels involves sacrificing his life to save his sister by drawing the attention of a crazed troll so that she can escape. Holly Short, in turn, saves his life through magic because he sacrificed himself for others. Given a second chance at mortal combat, Butler proceeds to don a full suit of medieval armor and defeat a fully grown bull-troll in hand-to-hand brutality, only stopping short of killing the troll at Holly Short’s insistence he not kill the beast. It’s an incredible scene. It’s also replaced in the movie by a swinging chandelier comedy of errors that eventually leads to the troll falling ass over tea-kettle and knocking himself out. It’s an inexcusable rift, but I had held out hope right up until this very scene, believing Branagh could pull this movie out of the dumpster fire he lit if he could nail Butler vs. troll. Instead, he whiffed it, and all the book-reading citizens of the world groaned in unison.
Perhaps what made this one so painful is the long history of whispers and murmurings of a full-length Artemis Fowl film in production. Over the years, the fan base has been clamoring for a movie adaptation worthy of the fantastic novel, and all of the stop-and-tart rumors of a movie being made was akin to torture. Little did we know the actual torture was going to be watching the 90-minute travesty of the film finally produced.
On a scale of 1-10, this one registers at a solid “don’t bother”and it saddens me to say it. My only hope is that after the dust settles and a little time elapses, a film crew with even a basic understanding of what makes the Artemis Fowl series so incredible will take another shot at this wonderful world and franchise.
Artemis Fowl was directed by Kenneth Branagh from a script by Conor McPherson. It is based on the popular YA book series by Eoin Colfer. Ferdia Shaw, Lara McDonnell, Tamara Smart, Nonzo Anozie, Josh Gad and Judi Dench star.