When Artemis Fowl finally hit the streaming service, as one of the first in a series of surrenders to the state of the movie theater industry in the pandemic, it was lambasted by critics. With 171 reviews calculated, it currently holds a gentleman’s 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Read through internet critiques while putting a quarter in a jar every time you see the word “bland,” and your kids will never have to worry about how they’ll pay for college.
So, what went wrong? It depends on who you ask, but the general feel in the collective room points toward “everything.”
Critics from various outlets derided a poor script, underwhelming performances, and a perceived canyon where the plot should have been puttied over with gobs of exposition and special effects. It is remembered today as the film that inspired the largest number of concerned phone calls to Judi Dench, next to Cats. Perhaps one of the biggest problems, though, were the massive deviations from the source material — most notably, the fact that Artemis wasn’t a villain anymore. Why? Branagh had his reasons, at one point explaining that his goal was to start with a more heroic protagonist and slowly progress him into the more sinister figure from the books, because he felt general audiences would have a hard time accepting Artemis being “preformed as an 11-year-old Bond villain.” Arguments aside, fans weren’t happy about it.
What’s really wild, though, is the fact that Artemis Fowl managed to pull itself up from the muck and become one of the most streamed films of the year. In November of 2020, Variety reported that it was Disney+’s fifth most-watched offering within seven days of release. The lesson, if there is one, seems to be that even a movie deemed acceptable by fewer than one in ten critics can still succeed if the only other option is for viewers to keep trying to learn how to make their own bread.