2020 has been a challenging year so far, which is why my first post of the year is nearly end of it. And I would have probably abandoned the blog altogether if something world changing hadn’t happened (besides everything else I mean, but being hyperbolic right now is an indulgence that I’m granting myself):
Incredibly, the Artemis Fowl movie is finally out! I don’t know if everyone else knew this already, but since I’ve been out of it for the majority of this year, it came as quite a shock to me.
The teaser from two years ago was exciting:
The trailer from 3 months ago was awful:
And I am happy to report that the movie itself, is certifiably
Frankly, I think it’s the best summer movie for 2020 because it’s exactly the kind of movie that’s perfect to take the frustration of the whole year out on!
There are some movie adaptations that are excellent, where the makers understand the source material and are fans of it. Lord of the Rings was clearly made by a team that was committed to bringing Middle Earth to life, and Peter Jackson gave one the feeling that he could quote Tolkein in his sleep. Gone Girl was also fantastic, with the author Gillian Flynn having the rare knack of being able to adapt her book as a screenplay. The Harry Potter movies were much beloved, but enjoyable as they were, I felt that they sacrificed much of the complexity of the novels, making it hard to wrap up the story towards the end because the previous films hadn’t stayed true to the rules of the magical universe, often not requiring wands or spells for magic (like in the duelling scene in Chamber of Secrets) and forgetting about the Invisibility Cloak after the first movie, rendering wandlore for the Elder Wand and the Cloak as one of the Hallows quite hollow in the films. They really did have enough material for two Deathly Hallows movies, but their imperfect set-up left the first of the two feeling boring and bloated. This analysis of the Gone Girl screenplay explains how a book that is mostly in the characters’ heads, can be brought to life with clever writing in such a way that it manages to weave a compelling plot for a visual medium of storytelling.
The Artemis Fowl movie on the other hand, feels like it was made by a team that either hadn’t read the books, didn’t like the source material, or were forced into this against their will.
The main problem is that Artemis isn’t villainous. If Disney wanted to make a movie about a hero, surely they could have opted to tell the story from Holly’s perspective instead? Did no one break it to the makers that Holly is the hero, Artemis is the villain and the story is told from the villain’s perspective? This matters because Artemis goes from being a fascinating character with a redemption arc to a kid who gapes at everything, perenially awestruck. The Fowls in this version of the story are a family of guardians, protecting humans from magic by stealing magical artefacts. This might have been an interesting story, like Disney’s American Dragon: Jake Long, but it isn’t Artemis Fowl.
Artemis being the stereotypical hero character might have already hollowed out the story, but the movie could have still been solidly mediocre instead of being solidly rotten on Rotten Tomatoes. We could have had some cool world-building and fun secondary characters even with vanilla Artemis. But no, Artemis doesn’t discover the fairies, he reads his father’s journal, so instead of being introduced to the various magical creatures, we see Haven City for about five minutes, and spend the rest of the time locked in the Fowl Manor siege.
Why is there still a siege if Artemis is good? Because he kidnaps Holly. But it’s the strangest thing because he reads in his father’s journal that Fowls I’s collaborator would meet him at the Hill of Tara and Artemis decides to kidnap the first fairy who lands there, instead of trying to befriend this presumed collaborator. Interesting choice. Then Artemis demands the Aculos from the fairies in exchange for Holly even though he knows that the Aculos is in his own home. Why is he “negotiating” for an artefact he knows he has? Because he’s a genius, duh. Mere mortals surely can’t decipher his “genius” plan, as we are constantly beaten over the head with by Gad’s super annoying narration.
Artemis’ genius is straight up prophetic, because he knows that if he kidnaps a fairy, the fairy police will lay siege on his home, he will negotiate for the Aculos which they won’t have, but they will have a kleptomaniac dwarf in custody who will break into Fowl manor and find the Aculos even though the dwarf’s job is to save Holly, and the dwarf will immediately switch allegiances and give Artemis the artefact and Holly will declare that they are best friends forever. Brilliant!
This movie is more plot holes than plot. The time stop is established as a human immobilizer but it doesn’t work on Artemis because he’s a “genius” who shoots the field sim and damages it. Why can’t the fairies just place a new one since the stakes are never explained? The fairies bow to Artemis’ will because he threatens to expose them to humans. They needn’t have bothered because Mulch, moments after the events being narrated, is somehow captured by human authorities and is singing like a canary to MI6 (i.e. Gad’s super annoying narration). How does this make sense? No one cares. Butler’s only job is to hang behind Artemis and shoot stuff, great. Juliet’s only job is to bring Artemis and Holly sandwiches and show us Holly’s “mind control” (mesmer) powers briefly, which is of no consequence because Artemis whips off his sunglasses multiple times and Holly doesn’t try to hypnotize him. We are told Opal Koboi wants to take over the world but don’t ever see her face or understand her motivations. Angeline Fowl is dead because Disney loves killing off mothers.
I’m not a fan of Kenneth Branagh’s direction. The other movie of his that I’ve watched is Murder on the Orient Express and I feel like he similarly butchered that story, but not as badly as this one. If he dislikes the source material so much, why bother making these book-to-movie adaptations? Another thing that annoyed me about Orient Express was that the one character who had a colonial background, Colonel Arbuthnot, was changed to being the token black man. As though a black man was part of the history of oppressing Indians of the subcontinent. It felt like a move that was meant to pretend to showcase diversity instead of confronting actual uncomfortable British history. In Artemis Fowl, the Eurasian Butlers, described as passing as East Asians (Butler pretends to be Mr. Lee, a Chinese businessman, in Opal Deception), are instead black with a generational history of serving the Fowls. Is Branagh telling me that the Fowls had a history of slavery? Is that why movie Butler hates being called “Butler”? In all fairness, I think it was unintentional, but why is it that the big scary bodyguard and his niece who serves the heroes are black, the computer geek centaur is Indian and every other character, even the magical ones, are white, despite Holly being specifically described as “nut brown” in the book? Ordinarily, I may not even have noticed, but in these hyperaware times, how could the makers miss this glaringly obvious stereotyping?
Did the movie have any redeeming qualities? Well, the visuals were great. And it made me want to reread the books. I can’t wait to explore the exploits of my favourite criminal mastermind, principled and rebellious leprechaun, instinctive and intuitive bodyguard, witty and whinnying computer whiz, and of course, the ol’ smelly reprobate.