Artemis Fowl

When COVID-19 hit and movie theaters shut down, studios had to make a decision about what to do with movies that were scheduled for summer release. Disney decided to push back several of their theatrical releases including “Black Widow” and “Soul.”

They did announce that one large-budget movie — costing $125 million to make — would be not be released in theaters and instead would come straight to their streaming platform Disney+. Studio acted like they were being gracious by releasing “Artemis Foul” online to stream, especially considering the new service has been light on new, exclusive, original content. “The Mandalorian” is great but the rest of the original content on the site is quickly thrown together reality-based shows and docu-series.

Turns out Disney wasn’t doing us a favor by releasing “Artemis Fowl” on their streaming service. They were dumping a stinker to avoid the embarrassment of a box office dud. Even if there were no virus to harm movie theater sales, “Artemis Fowl” is a disaster of a franchise starter. A joyless CGI-spectacle that crams an entire sci-fi/fantasy novel into 90 minutes, leaving us with a very confusing plot and characters we just don’t care about.

It would be a cliche “dad joke” to say in jest that: “‘Artemis Fowl’ is truly fowl” but this movie is so bad that it deserves such an unoriginal insult. A lazy insult for a lazy movie.

“Artemis Fowl” is based on a 2001 young adult novel by an Irish author and was immediately optioned to become a film series, likely another “Harry Potter” but with a mix of sci-fi and fantasy. It tells the story of a 12-year-old criminal mastermind who kidnaps a fairy.

The movie was in production hell and kept changing writers and directors. Eventually Kenneth Branagh, the acclaimed Shakespearean actor/director took a stab at it, following up his other big CGI productions such as “Thor” and “Cinderella.” (He’s much better at Shakespeare, by the way).

Now I haven’t read the books (I was a senior in high school when this came out) but apparently this film version is not very faithful, turning Artemis Fowl from a criminal mastermind to just a really smart kid who wants to save his dad. They removed any anti-hero element in this adaptation. Colin Ferrell plays his father and apparently he was just added in reshoots and they completely changed the plot.

I don’t like to criticize child actors but Ferdia Shaw doesn’t come off as promising, but it’s not really his fault given the awful screenplay. Josh Gad, more of a veteran of Disney fare such as “Frozen” and the “Beauty and the Beast” live action remake, does a better job at elevating a weak script and provides some mild comedic relief (although he’s not in it enough). Judi Dench looks like David Bowie with a strange hairstyle in the movie.

The story itself is pretty nonsensical and they try to help you follow along with endless exposition and characters repeating things that were just said. It’s as if the focus group told people they found the story confusing so they just added bad writing.

I think the real problem with the plot is that the movie is only an hour and a half long and that might seem merciful for such a bad movie, but perhaps a few extra minutes to build the world and flesh out the characters would have helped. Maybe. I’m not sure, but it’s possible.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t have to drive a pack of kids to the movie theater and pay an insane amount of money to sit through this stinker. I watched it at home while I did other things. My investment is low and so the bar was set pretty low. But even then I really can’t say I enjoyed watching this one. If it’s just to entertain the kids for 90 minutes, you can put on a much better that you all can enjoy (try “Onward”). If you’re just putting on background noise while you organize your sock drawer, then just watch that episode of “The Office” for the umpteenth time. If you were a huge fan of the books, my guess you’ll be disappointed. It’s not the worst movie ever made but just one you don’t need to waste your time watching.

Who knows. Maybe “Artemis Fowl” will follow the path of “The Golden Compass,” “Lemony Snicket” or “Percy Jackson” and earn a streaming-platform reboot in the form of a TV series rather than a movie (“Percy Jackson” series was announced for Disney+ after the two failed film adaptations).

In the end, “Artemis Fowl” joins a long list of failed YA-novel adaptations that were trying to be the next “Harry Potter” or “Hunger Games” or “The Hobbit.” It joins the likes of the three I already mentioned, along with “Ender’s Game,” “Mortal Instruments” and “Beautiful Creatures.” Even the franchises of “Divergent” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” started to lose their appeal in later entries.

There are nine books to mine material from and so this is a movie yearning for a sequel. But to do that would truly be fowl (sorry).

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