How many popular tropes can you cram into one movie trailer? With the new latest trailer for Artemis Fowl, I’m detecting a whiff of Batman, a little Harry Potter, some Lord of the Rings, tech from James Bond, and some Guardians of the Galaxy. In the context of a trailer, it all comes across as overstuffed and generic—a boy discovers his destiny and teams up with a band of weird allies to save the world from glowing CGI.
But it didn’t have to be this way. Artemis Fowl could’ve been something truly unique in kids’ blockbusters if it had stuck to the books. Instead, the studio seems to have watered it down to make it “safer”—and vastly underestimated its young audiences in the bargain. Based on the bestselling young adult fantasy series by Eion Colfer, the movie has traded something sophisticated for low-hanging fruit.
What is fascinating about the books is that the story lets the young protagonist—the only son of a notorious criminal—be an asshole. Wounded by the disappearance of his dad, struggling with his mom’s mental illness, with a genius intellect and access to a vast criminal empire, Artemis chooses to live up to his last name. When he discovers the existence of the fairy realm, his first instinct is to loot its magical technology. The book unfolds through the eyes of Artemis and Holly Short, a no-nonsense fairy cop; from both points of view, Artemis comes off as a bit villainous—what would happen if young Bruce Wayne broke bad?—as the narrative considers the wavy lines between good and evil.
The trailer suggests the film has recast Artemis’s dad as a protector of humanity and Artemis as a straight-up hero (despite a proclamation he’s, “the next criminal mastermind”). The plot has steered away from the clever heist structure of the first novel and into wider-scale fantasy action. Holly is no longer Artemis’ rival, but an ally. The villains are ugly monsters. No shades of grey here.
I’m not sure why Hollywood thinks kids can’t handle moral complexity when making the right choices is something they struggle with every day. Artemis Fowl has been in development for nearly two decades. It looks like it could have used a few more to get the books right.
Artemis Fowl opens May 29, 2020.