With much of the 2020 movie calendar being pushed to 2021—well, besides Christopher Nolan’s Tenet—audiences have been deprived of several blockbusters that, if they’d hit their original release dates, would’ve already come and gone. (In an alternate universe, I’ve already seen Fast 9 at least six times.) But just as certain as Dominic Toretto defying the laws of physics in a muscle car while extolling the virtues of family is the occasional big-budget dud where everything goes horribly wrong. For every crowd-pleasing entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is a Dark Phoenix waiting to crash and burn at the box office.
I can’t, in good conscience, say that I miss most of these underwhelming movies; many of them aren’t interesting enough to deserve so-bad-it’s-good consideration, à la Serenity. But watching something so terrible and so clearly chopped to death by a studio in post can feel like a kind of return to normalcy. Even in a global pandemic, Hollywood’s gonna Hollywood—and that means, yes, in 2020 there is an ill-fated YA franchise starter that is dead on arrival and legitimately hard to watch.
Artemis Fowl—which premiered Friday on Disney+—is really, really bad. It makes Dark Phoenix look like Logan. Without having read Eoin Colfer’s best-selling book series of the same name, about a kid who gets entangled in a world of magical creatures like elves, trolls, and dwarves, the film is borderline incomprehensible. Artemis Fowl clocks in at around 90 minutes, but had you told me it was as long as The Irishman, I’d have believed you. I never want to experience the punishment of this movie again—and unless you’re Chuck Rhoades, neither should you. Instead, I recommend that you live vicariously through my tortured Artemis Fowl viewing while I sift through eight pressing questions I have about what might be the worst YA fantasy adaptation of all time.
Why is Josh Gad narrating this entire movie in David Caruso’s voice?
It’s not quite the [record scratch, freeze frame] meme, but Artemis Fowl opens with a scene where Gad, playing a character named Mulch Diggums, is being interrogated by unseen government operatives who want to know about Artemis Fowl, who is apparently a criminal mastermind. Also, for some reason, these scenes are in black and white. As Mulch, Gad is basically in Hagrid cosplay—which is strange because he’s supposed to be a dwarf but for some unexplained reason is bigger than your average human. (Pun very much intended, we’ll dig more into Mulch Diggums later.)
But what really made it impossible for me to buy Gad’s performance was his insistence that Mulch Diggums speak in the voice of CSI: Miami’s David Caruso. He grumbles his way through every syllable, a trait he shares with Judi Dench’s elf character, Commander Root, to the point that he describes them as sounding like a “pair of hippos with a throat infection.” But making the characters’ gravely voices a quick punch line doesn’t really excuse sitting through a movie where two main characters sound like they’re doing a parody of that scene in Avengers: Infinity War where Chris Pratt tries imitating Chris Hemsworth, except unintentionally funny.
Are any of the characters supposed to have a personality?
According to my colleague Zach Kram, the eponymous Artemis of Colfer’s novels is a selfish antihero who learns how to become a better person as the eight-part series goes on. This character arc is completely absent in director Kenneth Branagh’s film adaptation, which doesn’t do anything to flesh out Artemis’s personality other than, like, inserting a quick scene of him surfing to show he can ride some gnarly waves in Ireland. (Does Ireland even have a surfing community??) And even that isn’t faithful to the text, since Book Artemis, according to Zach, is “unathletic” and “physically incompetent.”
Throwing Artemis into a Generic YA Protagonist Chamber doesn’t do his actor, Ferdia Shaw, any favors, and the rest of the cast is rounded out by characters so haphazardly introduced I honestly had a hard time remembering who, exactly, they were. In fact, Artemis Fowl is so sloppy that it never actually shows the face of the main antagonist, voiced by Hong Chau, whose only physical appearance in the film is a deleted scene. (She wasn’t in the movie, but she showed up in the first teaser trailer and everything!) Her character, Opal Koboi, has her face obscured in every scene and is more devoted to wearing a hoodie than Bill Belichick.
Just how much is Colin Farrell phoning this performance in?
If Farrell’s iconic, coked-up performance as Detective Ray Velcoro in True Detective Season 2 is an 11, playing Artemis Fowl Sr. for approximately five minutes of screen time is a 0.5. I wouldn’t be surprised if my guy filmed all his scenes in a weekend.
What does Judi Dench regret more: Artemis Fowl or Cats?
Judi Dench doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone—the Oscar, Tony, and BAFTA winner is a living legend. But it’s hard to think of a rougher stretch in the 85-year-old thespian’s career than going from the living nightmare that is Cats to playing a commander in Artemis Fowl who spends most of her screen time barking orders with the aforementioned surly voice and prosthetic elf ears. This is the look of someone committed to getting a check:
I would say Artemis Fowl is at least the more dignifying production—there’s no CGI fur sending the actress to the uncanny valley, nor the horrifying sight of a human hand coming out of a giant cat’s body. But really, the fact that we’re even comparing this movie to Cats is a testament to Artemis Fowl’s badness.
Do dwarves really unhinge their jaws, eat dirt, and shoot it out of their asses?
Yes, you read that correctly. Avert your eyes if that sounds like something that would give you night terrors:
I guess when a giant dwarf is named Mulch Diggums—Mulch! Diggums!—such behavior is to be expected. In case you were wondering: Yes, Josh Gad inhaling dirt and farting it out of his ass is easily the most entertaining part of this film. When asked whether this dwarf’s soil-eating ability was in Eoin Colfer’s novel, Kram responded, “Oh yes.” If only the rest of Artemis Fowl committed to this level of chaotic energy.
Is this movie Men in Black copyright infringement?
Hear me out: In this film Artemis wears a tiny suit and a pair of sunglasses, and fairy society is able to hide itself from humanity with technology that wipes people’s memories in a flash. (We see this in action when a troll attacks a wedding and tries to eat the flower girl before fairies intervene.) Are you telling me this kid isn’t trying to cop Will Smith’s aesthetic?
I only wish the Men in Black/fairy technology actually existed, so I could (a) pretend I never saw Artemis Fowl and (b) wipe my memory of Tom Hardy’s performance in Venom so that I can experience its cinematic power anew all the time.
What happened to Kenneth Branagh?
It would be one thing if Artemis Fowl were adapted by a no-name director, but Branagh has serious chops behind the camera. His adaptation of Hamlet in the ’90s was quite good; he’s currently building out the Agatha Christie Cinematic Universe (ACCU?); he even did a decent job introducing Thor to the MCU. But Artemis Fowl doesn’t have the look or feel of anything from Branagh’s filmography—and considering Chau shows up in the trailer as the main villain but is nowhere to be seen in the final product, there’s clearly a lot that was left on the cutting-room floor. Whether that means Artemis Fowl could’ve been a better movie, though, is between Branagh and god. (The bar is admittedly super low.)
Hopefully, what really happened with Artemis Fowl is the kind of thing Branagh will reveal in like 10 years’ time for one of those oral histories where everybody shits on the production of an objectively bad movie. (I would also love to know every detail behind the decision to have Josh Gad consume dirt and fart it out the other end.) In the meantime, I’m still stoked about Branagh’s Death on the Nile.
Is Artemis Fowl one of the worst movies ever made?
Artemis Fowl is definitely the worst release I’ve seen from a very strange year in movies, and the fact that this 90-ish-minute film feels like an endless slog might be the result of magical fairies messing around with the concept of time. (Don’t tell Christopher Nolan.) But even though the film is boring, generic, incoherent, and almost completely lacking in any original ideas, it still has a scene where Josh Gad stretches out his jaw like Mister Fantastic to chow down on a bunch of dirt and shoot stuff out of his butt as a farty discharge. And for that magically unforgettable minute of cinema, Artemis Fowl will always have a strange place in my memory—and especially my nightmares.