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The ending of Artemis Fowl explained

Contains spoilers for Artemis Fowl

Disney's long-awaited adaptation of Irish author Eoin Colfer's beloved Artemis Fowl series is finally here, and it's not exactly what fans were hoping for.

The Disney film was one of the earliest victims of the industry-wide shutdown that saw the company quickly divert the eternally gestating fantasy adaptation from its traditional theatrical release to Disney+. At the time, fans were concerned that the hasty shift to streaming might signal a lack of faith in the film on the part of the studio. Other high-profile projects, like the live-action Mulan, had their theatrical releases pushed back instead of scrapped. What did it say about Artemis Fowl that Disney was so quick to punt it? Those concerns turned out to be warranted. 

Since its June 12 release, critics and viewers alike have universally panned the big-budget YA adventure. The next Harry Potter, this is clearly not. It isn't even the next Divergent. Pointed critiques of the film were all over the map, but consistent themes present in most of the published sentiments included a disdain for all the nonsensical disruptions to Colfer's meticulously constructed plot and an absolutely bloodless performance from Ferdia Shaw in the titular role. Not even film-legend Kenneth Branagh's direction and a herculean performance effort from Book of Mormon alum Josh Gad could salvage this one. 

With all the changes made to Colfer's mischievous little tale, and the last-minute introduction of a magical MacGuffin that more or less saves the day, the ending of Artemis Fowl can be pretty difficult to track. Here's the breakdown of that frenetic (and borderline nonsensical) final act.

The magical MacGuffin was in Artemis Fowl's house all along

Artemis Fowl the movie is loosely based on the first two novels in Colfer's Artemis Fowl series (of which there are eight). If you're going to attempt to untangle Artemis Fowl's confusing ending, you need to understand that there are really only two things at stake. First — and most importantly –Artemis' father (Colin Farrell) has been taken prisoner by an evil fairy named Opal. Opal has been holding Artemis Sr. hostage to coerce Artemis Jr. into finding a magical object called the Aculos for her. Second — and less importantly — Artemis has captured and imprisoned a leprechaun police officer (LEPrecon, get it?) named Holly (Lara McDonnell). Conveniently, Holly's father and Artemis Sr. used to work together. They originally stole and hid the Aculos, a crime that has apparently made Holly a bit of a pariah in fairy circles. This bit of narrative symmetry has virtually no impact on the film's resolution, but it's played up as a big reveal. 

The entire story is framed as an interrogation confessional, recounted by the dwarven thief Mulch Diggums to the British authorities holding him in an off-shore black site. The Fowls are accused of some pretty serious acts of thievery themselves, and the cops believe that Mulch may be concealing their whereabouts.

As a character, Artemis Jr. is set up as kind of prototypical Mary Sue. He's a wealthy boy genius with a smug propensity for running rhetorical circles around every adult authority figure in his life — with the potential exception of his bodyguard, Dom (Nonso Anozie). Despite the urgency of his father's kidnapping, he spends virtually the entire movie barricaded inside his home. It's a nice home on the scenic Irish coast, so we can't exactly blame him, but the sedentary lifestyle doesn't ever allow the film to pick up much momentum. After capturing Holly, LEPrecon Commander Julius Root, played by an outrageously attired Dame Judi Dench, brings the might of the LEPrecon police force down on Artemis. Artemis only manages to hold them at bay with the threat of revealing their existence to the human world at large. Check and mate, Dench. 

Artemis Fowl is a criminal mastermind, or so he says

Not to be thwarted, Commander Root springs the criminal Mulch from fairy prison and offers him a few decades off his 400-year sentence if he tunnels inside the Fowl house, retrieves Holly, and recovers the Aculos. Mulch agrees and does the tunneling. Despite the sheer size of the Fowl manner, he quickly finds a hidden safe that Artemis doesn't even know about, cracks it in seconds, and — lo and behold — discovers the Aculos. It was hidden in Fowl Manor all along! Good thing, since Artemis clearly doesn't like to leave the house. Mulch betrays Root for reasons that are never really explained, and turns the Aculos over to Artemis and Holly. Holly's out of her cage now, and also working with Artemis — probably because their dads were buds. As it turns out, the Aculos is actually a kind of all-powerful transportation device; it's basically Rick Sanchez's portal gun, except it works because magic instead of science.

With a little magical juice from Holly, Artemis uses the Aculos to transport his father out of Opal's lair and back to safety. Why would Opal send Artemis chasing an artifact that could foil her advantage with the click of a button? Maybe fairies are just bad at taking hostages. We see a quick shot of Opal, still concealed behind her dark hood, screaming in a wild rage. Artemis now has the Aculos and his father back. Holly can return to LEPrecon and Root can stop the assault on Fowl Manor. All the plot coupons have been collected and can officially be traded in for denouement.

Artemis dons his silly reflective sunglasses, walks in slow-motion toward a waiting helicopter, and declares himself a criminal mastermind. That should be it, but there's still the little matter of the frame story to be addressed. We cut back to Mulch in the off-shore interrogation suite where he reveals that he's just been distracting the authorities all along on behalf of Artemis. And how did Artemis earn this kind of respect and loyalty from a magical career criminal like Mulch? Who knows. This isn't the kind of film that concerns itself with issues of motivation or dramatic tension. Artemis swoops in on a helicopter to bust Mulch out of the clink, and scene.

Given the response to Artemis Fowl so far, we're guessing this will serve as an end to the franchise as well as the film.