Artemis Fowl, a science-fantasy series written by Eoin Colfer, has been praised by Gen Z teens, and for good reason. The books challenged the status quo of fiction writing by introducing new ideas about the nature of mythical creatures and crime. Not only is it fascinating to read, full of technical concepts, original characters and witty humor, but it is also set in a gritty reality that would feel right at home in anime or film noir.
Because it's one of my favorite series, I was excited to learn in February that Disney was making a live-action adaptation, and I was optimistic about the potential this movie had to fill a much-needed niche in the film industry.
After a good amount of time in production limbo, the movie finally became available to stream in the U.S. this month on Disney+. However, I was sorely disappointed — so much so that 30 minutes into watching, I thought of giving up. The only thing that kept me going was a horrified fascination with how things would unfold. Like watching a car accident in slow motion, I just couldn't look away.
For those unfamiliar with the book series, the first novel follows a child criminal mastermind, Artemis, and his manservant-bodyguard known as Butler, who after discovering the existence of highly technologically advanced fairies, kidnaps an elf named Holly. (If you plan to read the book, maybe skip the rest of this paragraph, because it's loaded with spoilers.) Holly is captain of the lower elements police, or LEP. The kidnapping goes wrong and Butler is killed by a troll sent by the LEP as a “negotiation tool.” Holly revives him using magic and then kills the troll in what is perhaps one of the most badass moments in literature ever. To try and clean up their mess, the LEP attempts to biologically sterilize the manor with a bomb, but the plan fails and Artemis escapes with the gold.
Sounds awesome, right? Well, Disney misses the mark — by a long shot, in fact.
The Artemis Fowl book contains very mature themes and subject material, so I expected any movie adaptation would be rated R and in no way suitable for children. While Disney's film follows the same general plot, it inevitably contorted themes in the book to make a PG-rated flick appropriate for younger audience. As a result, many elements feel off, and the only thing holding the story together is unelaborated exposition. The film seems to treat the audience like idiots and completely breaks the unofficial rule of cinema: Show, don’t tell.
This worsens some other issues with the story, specifically the way the film establishes characters and their relationships. They are all kind of just “there” throwing dialogue at each other. Unfortunately, this means any meaningful parts of the film, which I like to call “touchy-feely moments," don't have much of an impact; the entire thing just comes off as superficial.
One key example is how Artemis is characterized. He's supposed to be a cold and calculated villain, but here, he's just a scared kid. In my opinion, this defeats the point of his character, but it also has deeper implications. Scenes later in the film require those character aspects to make sense.
Overall, this movie makes little sense unless you have actually read the books. Even then, you only just might be able to make out what is going on. Stuff seems to randomly happen in the story, with no clarity as to how or why events are unfolding in the ways that they are. There is no connection between point A and point B, things are referenced that were not established earlier in the film and sworn enemies become close friends in the very next scene. It's confusing and convoluted.
If you are a fan of the book series, I strongly encourage you not to watch this. I am hopeful that someday someone will come along and make an adaptation that does Artemis Fowl justice. This, sadly, is not it.