Artemis Fowl, released last weekend on Disney+, is an almost incomprehensibly bad film in which Josh Gad shoots dirt out of his ass like a woodchipper and the main character keeps visibly aging and de-aging between scenes like a YA Benjamin Button. The film is a cursëd artifact, one I’d normally recommend burying at the bottom of the ocean like a foul mythical beast were it not for the genuinely fascinating performance by Judi Dench as Commander Julius Root of the Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance. In Artemis Fowl, Seven-time Olivier Award-winner Judi Dench—one of the best actors living and to ever live—puts on the Green Goblin costume I made in the sixth grade and uses a voice that sounds like Cookie Monster the morning after Coachella. It’s incredible, it’s a commitment to the bit unheard of in modern times, and it solidified an idea that began its life with 2004’s Chronicles of Riddick but really solidified after last year’s Cats: The greatest genre of film is any five-alarm trash fire that also features Judi Dench getting through it as only an icon could.
To be clear, the last two completed films on Dench’s IMDB page right this second are Artemis Fowl and Cats, which is like a pilot telling you his last two flights were the Hindenburg and the plane in Con Air. The only difference is that there isn’t a disaster trashy enough to make Judi Dench feel like anything less than Judi motherfucking Dench. Come on. The Big Dame Energy she exudes in even the direst of cinematic atrocities could power the entirety of downtown Los Angeles. Seeing Judi Dench pop up in Artemis Fowl doesn’t elicit the same gut drop as seeing a former Oscar-winner on the cover of, like, Bridge Heist 6 at the gas station. Ya girl obviously either needed to remodel the back porch or just had time to kill in between dabbing on fools in her grandson’s Tiktoks, and the results are some of the most memorable performances of the year.
For example: As previously mentioned, Judi Dench decided to adopt a voice in Artemis Fowl that could only be likened to Christian Bale‘s Batman three hours after doing an Emo Songs Only karaoke night with the boys. In one of the most mystifying aspects of an incomprehensibly rickety movie, Josh Gad’s dwarf character Mulch Diggums is doing the exact same voice. It’s a weird thing that’s kind of alluded to once but doesn’t have a rhyme or reason, and until Disney contacts me personally to refute it, I’m just going to assume Judi Dench started production after Josh Gad and was like “well I was planning on doing a voice too, so.” Nobody could stop her. Nobody should stop her. It’s an even more magnificent choice when it’s factored into a performance that’s otherwise delightfully low energy. Dench literally glides into the film on a segway like a production assistant gave her wrong directions. I have never been mesmerized by anything more than this seven-time Oscar nominee operating at 1/10 her power and still forcing this dreadful fantasy adaptation to work on her terms.
Before Artemis Fowl there was, of course, Cats, in which Dench plays Old Deuteronomy, the mystical and ancient cat who decides which of the other cats gets to commit ritual suicide. It’s well-documented that Tom Hooper’s Cats adaptation is a nightmarish phantasmagoria pulled from whichever circle of hell punishes evil musical theater majors, but woo boy, Dench’s Old Deuteronomy is its burning heat center. Plenty of images in Cats play on a loop in my head like a broken film reel found in a serial killer’s basement, but none more often than the moment when Old Deuteronomy, lounging in a basket, does this like unmistakably horny thing with her leg at the sight of Ian McKellen’s old cat singing about how much it sucks to be old. It changed me as a person. Cats ends with Judi Dench, wedding ring still extremely un-CGI’d, looking straight into the camera and telling the audience a cat is not a dog. It’s one of the wildest experiences I’ve ever had in a movie theater.
There’s just something oddly liberating about a performer who has already proven ten times over they could act you into the fucking core of the Earth, so who cares? Especially in an industry that so often callously tosses aside its female members after a certain age. Judi Dench is allowed to do whatever the hell she damn well pleases, but for my own selfish reasons, I hope she just keeps classing up complete trash for the lols of it. Vin Diesel is on the record as wanting Dench to appear in a Fast & Furious movie and I have never wanted something to happen more in my life. I hope Judi Dench appears throughout the entirety of Fast & Furious 10 without once getting out of the driver’s seat of a souped-up Chrysler LeBaron. Jesus Christ, she can drag race Helen Mirren. This is the no-fucks-given energy an 85-year-old Judi Dench still puts out into the world. An energy that Hollywood, nay, the world, needs more of.