Disney released Kenneth Branagh’s Artemis Fowl this weekend, transforming a film that likely would have been a wet fart at the summer box office in any given normal year, into one that can now safely live on in perpetuity as a wet fart in the digital eternity of Disney+. As Roxana Hadadi noted in our review of the movie, it’s got a whole host of problems, from atrocious accents, to nonsensical plotting, to—perhaps most critically—an utterly bland titular character. What’s strange about that last point is that Eoin Colfer’s original Fowl books offer up the Artemis character as one of their primary hooks; after all, how many kids’ entertainment creators are daring enough to center their work on a “hero” who’s a near-sociopathic tween Bond villain, willing to execute cunning plots, take hostages, and generally come off as thoroughly unlikable?
Certainly not Kenneth Branagh, who appears to have deliberately cut everything interesting about the Artemis Fowl character from his Artemis Fowl movie, out of worries that audiences couldn’t identify with the whole “tween supervillain” thing. Per an interview with SlashFilm this week—i.e., so far in the distant past that there’s still lots of un-qualified praise for J.K. Rowling suffusing the conversation—Branagh talked about the choice, stating that, “[Colfer] had him preformed as an 11-year-old Bond villain. It seemed to me that for the audiences who were not familiar with the books, this would be a hard, a hard kind of thing to accept.” And so Branagh altered the character to be more “relatable,” having him go to regular school, wear more contemporary clothes, and basically be an extremely generic young fantasy protagonist, instead of the ultra-cunning mastermind he is in the books.
Branagh claims that there’s at least a method to his alterations, though; he argues that the character’s story arc, and we’re quoting here, “resembles something like Michael Corleone in The Godfather.” The argument being that audiences need to watch a whole movie of a character slowly learning to be a criminal-ish semi-supervillain while Josh Gad does his best Hagrid impression before they’ll willingly accept it.
Anyway, Artemis Fowl is currently streaming on Disney+. You can watch it yourself, notebook in hand, taking meticulous records on how thoroughly like The Godfather it is.