Review: Artemis Fowl is a crushing disappointment

  • Newcomer Ferdia Shaw beat out 1,200 other actors for the title role. Disney
  • Once upon a time, the fairies lived above ground. Disney
  • Human greed drove them underground "to escape from your rapacious appetite." Disney
  • The Fowl estate, home to 12-year-old criminal mastermind Artemis.
  • Artemis and Butler (Nonso Anozie) discover a portal to the fairy underworld. Disney
  • This old woman is more than she appears. Disney
  • A glorious transformation. This entire scene is inexplicably missing from the final film. Disney
  • The fairies descend on the Fowl estate to recuse a kidnapped fairy. Disney
  • Artemis seems pretty handy with a fairy weapon. Disney
  • Butler demonstrates his archery skills Disney
  • Dame Judi Dench is Commander Root of the Lower Elements Police (LEP). Disney

Artemis Fowl fans loudly trumpeted their displeasure online when the second trailer for the film adaption of the beloved YA books dropped in March, in advance of its debut on Disney+. Their objection: It looked like a significant departure from the evil boy genius of the novels in favor of a more Disney-friendly heroic figure. At the time, I adopted a "wait and see" attitude, since it's generally a good idea to see the actual film before passing judgement. Alas, that optimism was ill-founded. Artemis Fowl, the movie, is a spectacle-filled pointless slog that will be a crushing disappointment for book fans. The young criminal mastermind has been watered down and "Disney-fied" beyond recognition, just as fans feared.

(Spoilers below.)

There are eight books in the Artemis Fowl series, detailing the extensive exploits of the titular character. The debut novel received generally positive reviews and a few comparisons to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, although Eoin Colfer's books have never achieved the same stratospheric commercial success. The comparison irritates Colfer, who describes his novels as being more like "Die Hard with fairies." As I wrote when the first teaser dropped way back in November 2018, "That's a fairly accurate description. Artemis is the anti-Harry Potter. He's a thief and a kidnapper, among other misdeeds, and he is largely untroubled by remorse. That's part of his charm."

In the first book, 12-year-old Artemis is living mostly unsupervised in the Fowl home. His father (Artemis Fowl I) is missing, and his mother has gone mad with grief. He relies on his loyal protector, Butler, for companionship. They stumble across a portal to the fairy underworld: a magical place that includes a Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance (LEPrecon), trolls, dwarves, and goblins, all located beneath the "real" human world.

Artemis decides to kidnap a fairy and hold her for ransom to fund his search for his father. The fairies retaliate, and Artemis must pit his wits against their magical powers. It's fiction, so he naturally succeeds, plus his mother is cured of her madness. Artemis goes on to rescue his father from the Russian mafia in the second book (Artemis Fowl and the Arctic Incident) and ends up in an alliance with the fairies he battled originally to help them defeat a goblin army.

Director Kenneth Branagh's film adaptation takes its key elements from those first two books. Per the official premise:

[The film] follows the journey of 12-year-old genius Artemis Fowl, a descendant of a long line of criminal masterminds, as he seeks to find his father who has mysteriously disappeared. With the help of his loyal protector Butler, Artemis sets out to find him, and in doing so uncovers an ancient, underground civilization—the amazingly advanced world of fairies. Deducing that his father's disappearance is somehow connected to the secretive, reclusive fairy world, cunning Artemis concocts a dangerous plan—so dangerous that he ultimately finds himself in a perilous war of wits with the all-powerful fairies.

  • Criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl I (Colin Farrell) has groomed his son to follow in his footsteps. YouTube/Disney
  • Artemis Fowl, boy genius YouTube/Disney
  • Deciphering a strange language YouTube/Disney
  • He makes that suit look good. YouTube/Disney
  • Fowl Senior goes missing. YouTube/Disney
  • Butler shows young Artemis his father's secret lair. YouTube/Disney
  • Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) is an elven reconaissance officer with LEPrecon YouTube/Disney
  • Josh Gad plays giant dwarf Mulch Duggins. YouTube/Disney
  • City street in the fairy realm. YouTube/Disney
  • Fire can't burn this creature. YouTube/Disney
  • An otherworldly army advances on the Fowl estate, YouTube/Disney
  • Dame Judi Dench rocking the elf ears as Commander Root. YouTube/Disney
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