Before the big screen, the Assassin’s Creed franchise was a giant in the video game industry. It offered a fresh story and unique gameplay that spanned into many consequent video games. To this day, the second Assassin’s Creed game is considered one of the best in the industry in terms of its deep lore and mechanics. Therefore, it is a shame that none of what made the game so successful brushed off on the much-anticipated movie of the same name.
The movie opens strong with the initiation of a certain Assassin. The atmosphere and the costumes are immersive. Good beginning, right? Nope. Everything goes downhill when we return to the present and are introduced to the protagonist, Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender). Callum is on the brink of capital punishment for murdering a pimp (thus still morally redeemable, because it’s only a pimp) but is kidnapped by a powerful company named Abstergo. Abstergo chief scientist and bland character Sofia (Marion Cotillard) connects Callum to the Animus, a machine that projects his Assassin ancestor’s memories, to find a powerful artefact known as the Apple of Eden. And off we go into a two-hour trope-filled adventure.
The uniqueness of the video game franchise comes from its re-interpretation of history. For example, Leonardo da Vinci was a collaborator of the Assassins and had a hand in designing those iconic wrist blades. And Machiavelli was an Assassin, leading the Italian Creed. Mixing historical events with famous individuals of the past kept the story fresh and interesting. In Assassin’s Creed however, Christopher Columbus’ nonsensical cameo comes too late and anyone not familiar with the Spanish Inquisition is sure to miss many details.
The video games are also well known for their settings, with the beautiful Coliseums of Rome, the busy, bustling streets of revolutionary Paris and the industrial, dark London. CG 1492 Spain looks impressive, but that’s it. The action abandons the city setting, either taking place in a small village, on rooftops or on dusty countryside roads. And the movie feels so rushed that it seems the Spanish Inquisition only exists to cause minor inconveniences to the characters.
The movie spends too much time in the present trying to develop Fassbender’s character, whereas the real story should have been the historical one. Callum’s ancestor, Aguilar, is so overlooked that none of the high-tempo action holds any tension. Aguilar doesn’t connect to the audience, rendering the action sequences meaningless and boring. In fact, it seems like the historic scenes are shoe-horned in on a flimsy excuse to find the Apple of Eden and neither Callum or any other character are intriguing enough to justify the amount of time wasted in the present.
As previously mentioned, perhaps the most gripping scene is the movie’s introduction, where it opens with Aguilar’s initiation. This promising start is ruined when, rather than visual storytelling, the complex background of the Templar-Assassin war is recapped in blunt, unpolished statements by characters that only seem to exist for exposition (e.g. Jeremy Irons’ character).
These are just some of the reasons why fans of the video game franchise may find the movie lacking. However, even examined as an action film, Assassin’s Creed also has its shortcomings. Australian director Justin Kurzel’s Assassin’s Creed doesn’t offer anything new or exciting as an action movie. The action sequences are shaky, with only glimpses of blatantly choreographed fights or impossible flips. Furthermore, the movie is weirdly paced, with action sequences sprinkled in between dull shots of Callum’s story arc in Abstergo’s Spanish headquarters. The third act, most resembling an Assassin’s Creed video game, still falls short of satisfactory.
These can be likely attributed to the script more than Kurzel. Aside from several logical inconsistencies (why keep dangerous Assassins in one building?), the script overleaps to explain the history of Assassin’s Creed, often in the shape of cheesy dialogue (the cheese is real when Irons’ character explicates how the Templars invented religion and capitalism to control society).
Cotillard’s character is all over the place and Fassbender’s character is blunter than the swords used on set. This is not due to the actors themselves, who manage to deliver good performances with the script at hand, but due to the writers who seemed to have written themselves into a corner trying hard to make the movie distinct from the video game.
At least the film achieves a distinct visual style with its use of golden colours for the outdoor scenes. The contrast does work nicely but sometimes produces awkward results; one scene has Denis Ménochet’s character looking like the distant cousin of the Green Goblin, some of the indoor scenes feel underlit. One can also appreciate the fact that the movie uses many practical effects and that the costumes and the settings are intricately detailed. Again, it is just a shame the movie decides not to use these elements to truly showcase the agonizing beauty of a city at war.
Assassin’s Creed is unable to shake the curse of being a video game movie. It tries to be distinct, but focuses on the wrong aspects of the game franchise. The aesthetic beauty of the movie is overshadowed by a shallow script and shaky-cam fights. Assassin’s Creed lays a serviceable, yet weak foundation for the future of a franchise that could learn a lot from its early mistakes. If a sequel does come to fruition, one can only hope that the same misgivings won’t be repeated in the future. After all, due to its unique story, Assassin’s Creed has a ton of potential yet to be exploited.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10