‘Artemis Fowl’ Movie Review: Disney+ Premiere Doesn’t Hide Box Office Bomb

When Disney delayed the release of Mulan, Black Widow, Jungle Cruise and other movies due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) and theater closures, they scheduled Artemis Fowl to debut on Disney+. There was every reason to hope that this could pave the way for major theatrical quality movies to premiere on the streaming service However, now that the film is streaming it’s clear they dropped it on streaming for another reason.

Artemis Fowl: Judi Dench
Judi Dench | Disney Enterprises

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Artemis Fowl would have been a tough sell in theaters and struggled to break even. Were it a good movie, that would be a risk worth taking. Disney was wise to cut their losses and dump Artemis Fowl to their streaming service, but you’d be be better off just watching a Disney classic instead. 

What is ‘Artemis Fowl’ about?

That’s a good question. There’s a whole lot of explaining but it’s never clear what Artemis Fowl is actually about. The first confusing thing is there are no birds in this movie. So why is name Fowl? Perhaps the book explains that but that explanation didn’t make it into the adaptation.

Disney+ Artemis Fowl
L-R: Nonso Anozie, Lara McDonnell, Josh Gad, Ferdia Shaw | Disney Enterprises

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Giant dwarf Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad) narrates the story of how Opal (Jessica Rhodes, Emily Brockmann) kidnapped Artemis Fowl Sr. (Colin Farrell) to obtain the aculos he found. His butler Domovoi (Nonso Anozie) explains to Artemis Jr. (Ferdia Shaw) how to get the aculos so he has to team up with fairy Commander Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) of Haven City at the center of the Earth. Judi Dench plays Holly’s commander Root.

The aculos is perfectly fine for a maguffin to send Artemis and Holly off on their adventure, but there isn’t much of an adventure. They’re still sitting at a computer doing research after all of the above. This is a lot of exposition. 

‘Artemis Fowl’ is a VFX clip reel in search of a story

When Artemis Fowl is not over-explaining things that still remain unclear, it offers an onslaught of visual effects. It looks like a clip reel for a VFX house, but it’s a lot coming at you in the guise of a “plot.” 

Colin Farrell | Disney Enterprises

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A troll picks up and tosses people while Holly uses magic to save a girl. Later, the troll wreaks havoc in the library, but it could be any generic monster destruction. Time freezes, bends and distorts but all it does is put visual effects through a scene. Background characters freeze but the main characters just go about their business. One visual effect is truly Fartemis Fowl.  

Visual effects set piece overload has been plaguing blockbusters for decades now. It’s not a new problem, but Artemis Fowl is the most blatant example of set pieces you don’t even know why you’re watching. Because the characters said so? It makes the Transformers movies look like subtly foreshadowed events. 

A pig with very nice lipstick

Putting lipstick on a pig is a nicer cliche than polishing a turd so let’s go with the former. For all the nothing happening in Artemis Fowl, director Kenneth Branagh certainly makes it appear almost as if it’s a real movie. It’s bright and colorful. He uses sweeping camera moves through the sets. The visual effects are polished, even if you don’t know why they’re happening. 

Artemis Fowl: Ferdia Shaw
Ferdia Shaw | Disney Enterprises

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The most glaring seams are all of the explanations dubbed over in voiceover. This doesn’t seem like an adaptation problem. Plenty of complex books have streamlined movie adaptation. This seems more like a problem of overstuffed fantasy movies that just dump exposition to justify all their bloat. 

Presumably this means Mulan and Jungle Cruise are worth waiting for. A movie probably has to be an unmitigated disaster like Artemis Fowl to forego theaters altogether. Artemis is worse than Disney+ originals like Lady and the Tramp or Timmy Failure. So don’t judge it by comparison to the good Disney+ originals that give the streaming service fun exclusive content. Just understand that Artemis Fowl is a wash.