Review: Artemis Fowl (2020)

Artemis Fowl. Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Disney, 2020.

Premiere Impressions

            Have you ever wanted to see a movie where Josh Gad unhinges his jaw like a demonic snake and then eats dirt while simultaneously blowing it out of his behind? Well, then have I got the movie for you.

            Why did I choose Artemis Fowl for this week’s review? Well, like Chandler Bing in a box, the answer is three-fold. One, the novel came out during the height of my generation’s Scholastic Book Fair. Two, I figured it was time to use my Disney+ account for something other than That’s So Raven. And three, I saw the above picture of a serious Dame Judi Dench with fake elf ears online and guffawed.

            Normally in my reviews, this is where I throw in a bit of a plot summary for those who do not know the premise of the film. Unfortunately for you, I have seen Artemis Fowl and am still not quite sure of the plot of the movie. A young Irish boy with an English accent, Artemis Fowl, is the son of a thief who believes in fairies and goblins, named Artemis Fowl (Colin Farrell, because Irish). Artemis’s father is kidnapped by a mysterious villain (who is never revealed, because sequels). Concurrently, there is another precocious child, a fairy named Holly, that is being trained by Commander Root (Dench) to do something about something and more elf stuff. Also, everyone is looking for the Aculos, a magic weapon McGuffin, that can do something because it has yellow magic. Got all that? No? Me neither.

            Oh, also it’s important to note that Artemis is the smartest twelve-year-old that’s ever lived. He is not just precocious, he’s smarter than everyone else ever that’s ever lived in the history of ever. How dare a trained psychologist try to offer him therapy! He already knows psychology! He already knows everything, duh! The film spends the majority of its prologue setting up Artemis’s only discernable trait: genius. I understand the idea here is to make the young star someone that the child audience will want to become, and therefore, buy all the merchandise the studio shells out, but the film takes the child-as-cipher trope so far that Artemis is barely defined as an actual character. Artemis’s character arc is supposed to be from going to child genius to child criminal mastermind. He is the son of a thief, who never goes through any training, and fights a bunch of fairies. At no point does he do anything remotely resembling criminal behavior. He doesn’t even leave his house for the first 82 minutes. No, seriously, in this sci-fi/fantasy adventure film, the protagonist does not leave the house.

            The movie is so desperate to become a franchise it goes with the everything bagel method of crafting a film. Random slow-mo? Check. Random hyper-edited action sequences? Check. Random centaur? Check. (And, yes, the centaur whinnies as he clomps around). It all culminates in a film with no flavor. There’s no specific tone, there’s no effective world building, it’s all just there to make sure every box is ticked. This is even weirder when you think about the fact that this was directed by Kenneth Branagh. Yes, you read that correctly, Sir Kenneth Branagh. Furthering his journey away from serious Shakespearean adaptations, he just can’t make this thing fun or magical. Which, it really should be since there are time-stopping fairies.

Post-Screening Snippets

  • Unlike the first Harry Potter or, you know, the first Halloween, this isn’t fun for the whole family.
  • This is the movie of the stupid, grumble voices.
  • Speaking of, this movie will make you hate Josh Gad. He uses a ridiculous grumble voice that not only is annoying when he is on-screen, but he also narrates. Every time you’re like “you know what, this part isn’t horrible,” then Grumble-Gad comes back to remind you to hate the movie.

The Final Tea

            Disney used every cent of its 125-million-dollar budget, but I can’t tell you where It all went. The CGI, in particular, looks unfinished. It definitely looks like a direct-to-streaming movie, not a franchise-starting wide release as intended. Small kids might be entertained by the kids-as-heroes storyline, but even they might be asking for a fiftieth screening of Moana halfway through instead.


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