Artemis foul?

Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad and Ferdia Shaw stand dumbfounded in Disney+’s Artemis Fowl. Our reviewer says audiences may end up with similar looks after viewing.

In 2001, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone launched a prolonged trend of movie studios adapting novels written for kids and the young adult crowd into major motion pictures. For a time it seemed as if every successful book was destined to get its own adaptation, for better (Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia) or for worse (Eragon, Percy Jackson). 

It was, therefore, always a bit baffling to me that Artemis Fowl, my second favorite childhood series after Harry Potter, never received such attention when it was at the height of its popularity. I remember dream casting a hypothetical Artemis Fowl film with one of my buddies in middle school, and now, almost two decades later, one has finally been set loose on the world. 

Going into this movie, I tried to have an open mind. The trailers made it look terrible and highly unfaithful to the source material, and the fact that it was originally meant for theatrical release only to be turned into a Disney+ exclusive at the last second did not exactly fill me to the brim with confidence. Sadly, I now find that these initial wary thoughts were blissfully naïve and understated, as Artemis Fowl is a cinematic mess that is sure to please absolutely no one.

As an adaptation, Artemis Fowl is a train wreck. Awkwardly shoving the first book and about one third of the second book into the same hour-and-a-half while tying them together with a brand new and poorly explained MacGuffin, the movie makes so many changes in plot, character and tone that it is almost unrecognizable to fans of the original series. Artemis, a criminal mastermind who is also the primary villain of the book, is here turned into a Disney-esque Spy Kid good guy who everyone insists is a genius despite his never doing anything particularly ingenious. 

Commander Root is now a woman (and played by a very uninterested Judi Dench), Juliet is now twelve, Holly is now white, all the characters are now two-dimensional, up is now down, right is now left, and why this movie is called Artemis Fowl, I have no idea. 

All of this would be somewhat acceptable if it was a good film on its own, but it is not. Flying from plot point to plot point (sometimes literally), Artemis Fowl takes absolutely no time to make the audience understand or care what is going on. There is something about a long-lost weapon with the capability to wipe out all life or something, a plan to capture a fairy because of reasons, and a sudden alliance between the two at-odds protagonists because the (multiple) script writers said so. Artemis Fowl never gave me a reason to invest in its mess of a story, and by the cliffhanger at the end, all I could muster was a massive, bemused shake of the head. The only good things I can say about this movie is that Josh Gad (who plays the dwarven thief Mulch Diggums) vaguely amused me a couple of times and that I didn’t have to pay for it because I already subscribe to Disney+.

It fails for pre-existing fans, it fails for newcomers… just give Artemis Fowl a pass and go watch Harry Potter again.

Artemis Fowl is now available on Disney+.