Young adult adaptations are extremely risky: I honestly don’t know why so many production companies even try to get most of these franchises off of the ground.
If you’re a Hunger Games hit, you’re just a hit for a short while as you scramble to pay the rising costs of the cast and try to close out the inevitably weak last book. If you’re not a hit (I’d list some things but there are too many to name), well you just wasted everyone’s time (especially book fans) with your failure to launch: leaving another studio to pick up the scraps in five to 10 years. Even industry titans like Disney are guilty of this (RIP Chronicles of Narnia): and it looks like they just hit another road bump.
With a “deeper Spy Kids” hook, Artemis Fowl was always going to be hard to adapt. It’s much easier imagining a less cringe-worthy version in your head while reading a book, but when Josh Gad is narrating your story in medias res in a very jarring way, you run into problems. Speaking of Gad (who plays a dwarf); he was horribly miscast, as both his look and his attempt at a gravelly voice are unconvincing, though he isn’t the only one sporting an array of goofy enunciations. He sets the tone for the entire film and is present entirely too often.
But personnel issues also reach to the top. It’s hard to believe that Kenneth Branagh directed this project as he’s usually a lot more careful when it comes to the smaller details. Artemis Fowl goes buck wild with cheese, but not in a deliberate way (very early on he rides home on a Onewheel, doing a “sweet” kickflip). The problems are multifaceted: the script, the camerawork, the performances, all of it is to blame. A certain degree of exposition is expected in a children’s film, but this is just over the top.
Artemis Fowl is a textbook lesson in why it’s important to show, not tell. So much of the plot zips by at a rapid pace, likely due to an attempt by the editors to deliver a comprehensive film. In just 15 minutes we learn that Artemis himself is a boy genius (through a very typical “I notice things” Sherlock Holmes scene), his father could be a criminal mastermind and that fairies exist. We barely get any time to actually get to know Artemis as a person, or what his family life is like. Instead he’s propelled into superhero-dom within minutes, assisted by his butler bodyguard named Butler (who is one of the only highlights of Fowl).
We don’t even get a clichéd hero’s journey though. Artemis is already fully developed and ready to step into his father’s shoes because he’s a genius, you see: we were told that in the opening moments. But even those fantastical elements feel like a budget film. The costumes are utterly ridiculous in some cases, with the “fantasy” sets giving off a very closed-off vibe with minimal effects (practical or otherwise). I’m not sure who Artemis Fowl is for. I’m all about complete re-imaginings, as not everything needs to fully follow the source material to be considered a success. But I can’t imagine families gathering around the TV and enjoying this together: it merely exists.