I exist in two states simultaneously when talking about Artemis Fowl. First of all, there’s the me now, three days after having seen it, tasked with the herculean effort of writing about the piece of shit, and then there’s the me who, once they get started talking about the movie, has it all come flooding back to them like Vietnam flashbacks.
I was surprised going back to the Artemis Fowl books in the lead up to this movie. I was surprised by how dark they were, how subversive they were, and yes they are a children’s fantasy novel but when I was a child I engaged with them as dark fantasy. I shall return to this later. Now, while a big part of why this movie doesn’t work is to do with its adaptational changes, but for a film to be a mere bad adaptation of a book, or a non-faithful one, does not inherently make it bad. What Have You Done To Solange? is a TERRIBLE adaptation of The Clue of The New Pin, but a fantastic movie. The Shining and all that. We will talk about the adaptational changes to this novel but first we must talk about how it just flat out sucks as a movie, which it does.
Artemis Fowl comes at an interesting time. For director Ken Branagh he decided to make this movie after his nephews showed him the book five years ago, which is cute but also emblematic of the movie’s problems. Branagh has made his bread and butter in recent years big-budget costume drama fantasy crowd-pleasers like Cinderella and Thor after some big-budget passion projects that underperformed like Frankenstein and The Magic Flute, (never try to re-adapt Bergman Ken, it never goes well). Now, while its hard to say Cinderella and Thor were selling out, (although some people said so at the time), because Ken’s personal fingerprints were so all over those movies, were clearly passion projects, and were so full of Ken’s trademark Joi de Vivre, the same cannot be said of this one. Of all Ken’s crowd-pleasers, this is the one where the accusation of sell-out really seems to be sticking.
If Ken were Fall Out Boy, this would be his Mania.
Artemis Fowl also comes towards the end of a trend of fantasy media for younger people in a post-Harry Potter and post-Twilight world. Except about 5 years after that trend felt tired.
Now, my reviews have in the past been criticized for a lack of balance so, I will flaccidly attempt to compliment this movie. Okay, the person who plays Holly does a competent job, she puts in a performance I’d classify as acceptable.
Okay so let’s tear this fucking piece of shit a new one.
So let’s begin where the movie does, Josh Gad, stupendously miscast. The movie starts with him in a generic government facility in a framing device so lazy and half-hearted that it only makes the fact that this was added on, probably as a reshoot, at the last minute to cover up the gaping cracks in the storytelling, belying what must have been a gargantuanly troubled shoot of The Snowman level proportions, glaringly obvious. That being said, the fact is that, yes, his narration is constant and terrible, and yes, it logically must be there to cover up flaws because it is nothing, and I mean NOTHING but lazy exposition, but then again so is every line in the movie. In this way, we can demonstrate why it is fucking impossible to coherently talk about Artemis Fowl, problems collide together like droplets in a cloud, and like electrons around an atom, it is scientifically impossible to tell where you’re meant to be looking for them at any one time.
To explain this phenomenon, I have created Schrodinger’s Brannagh, (if you didn’t know, yes this is the quantum physics phenomenon Schrodinger’s Cat was invented to explain), Ken Brannagh is making a movie in a box, and until we observe him, any one of these problems with his movie could be true, and probably are. Am I meant to be thinking about the fact that Gad’s narration is covering up bad storytelling, thus is unsatisfying, the fact that the dialogue itself is expositing to always cover up flawed storytelling, or is the storytelling just lost in the cracks between the cocaine-fuelled, incoherent editing? Or is the editing just that bad in order to hide the appalling storytelling as the editor scrambles to make the movie make some kind of motherfucking sense?
I mean, I say all this, the real problem with Josh Gad’s performance is how brain-melting-ly annoying he is. He’s been told to do the gruff movie voice that people do in movies that always annoys me anyway but he is incapable of even doing it in a way that makes sense. His voice can’t go that low so what you get is his voice bottoming out like a badly mixed record overly compressed on Spotify. It’s just annoying at the end of the day, it nearly gave me a migraine. We are talking Jesse Eisenberg in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice levels of silly, po-faced, and stupid here, those levels of must stupendously awful. Judy Dench also shows up for an embarrassment, she is the only one attempting an Irish accent that isn’t just a Hollywood version and she fails pretty badly.
It is true that a lot of its problems stem from adaptational problems though. The fact is that for most of the first novel, Artemis is the bad guy. After that, mostly, he just begrudgingly helps. The author said of Artemis that he’s an 11-year-old Bond Villain, here it is very clear that they want him to come across like an 11-year-old Bond, which is really the foundational problem in so many ways, and representative of the problem at the heart of many of these adaptations. How it manifests in this movie is Artemis coming across like the most smackable little smug twerp you’ve ever had the displeasure to have sit at the back of your SAT level Mathematics class refusing to do any of the classwork because his Mum taught him a better way to do it, like, ‘no Artemis, we don’t just teach you this so that you can do it, we also do it to set up foundational ideas about Maths that you’re going to need later, you self important fuck face’. Which, as a character, isn’t a bad thing per se, but when the film thinks he’s really, really cool, it just makes you want to give up on the idea of a younger generation altogether. Now, I said that this is representative of a problem in this trend of movies in general and it is this; movies not understanding darkness. You see this in films like The Spiderwick Chronicles and Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, while those books have a young audience, the young people who engage with them engage with them as dark fantasy. These are things that films like Coraline and The Hunger Games get really, really right. In the case of Artemis Fowl, he’s not the bond villain, he’s bond.
Ken just saw that the book was given to him by his kids, not what they were getting out of it.
Other problems include the kind of ultimate villain who kidnaps his father who is not given an identity, face, ideology, point, of conclusion in the plot.
After this, after all this, the film, this absolute piece of shit, has the audacity to sequel bait.
Fuck it, so very hard.