TL;DR – The best movie adaption of a video game, but that was not really a high bar to cross and Assassin’s Creed kind of just stumbles across it.
Score – 3 out of 5 stars
It is one of those weird things of Hollywood that no matter how many times they try, no one has made a decent adaptation of a video game into a movie. Now part of this has been that people have been adapting video games without understanding what there were, and also there are a lot of difficulties condensing a long interactive experience (sixteen hours for the first Assassin’s Creed game) into a two-hour passive movie. To the point where the most successful and critically acclaim versions of this genre Wreck-It Ralph & Tron used video games as just the backdrop for their story. This can be complicated even further as video games are big multi-billion dollar industry so if you’re making a film, you’re gonna want to franchise the heck out of it, the big problem with last year’s Warcraft (See Review). So within all this mess comes the Assassin’s Creed film, based on the incredibly popular series of games that has the fascinating caveat that you could set it at any point in human history. So how does it go, well for a video game adaptation movie, it goes quite well, for just a movie, it is a bit meh.
Assassin’s Creed tells the story of Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) who as a child comes home one day to find his mother dead and federal agents closing in. So he goes into hiding only to end up on death row thirty years later, but psyche he as not killed instead he is taken by the Abstergo Foundation to unlock his past through the Animus Project. This is the first step in the right direction for Assassin’s Creed, as they tell their own story based on a time and place not visited in the main games yet, with a mostly new set of characters. This means you limit some of the issues of condensing some of the larger stories down to a smaller run time. As well as this, there is quite a bit that Assassin’s Creed really does get right, and I do want to mention them before we start breaking down some of its flaws. Firstly, the setting is fascinating, the Spanish Inquisition and the re-conquest of the Iberian Peninsula is a good location for this movie and the themes it likes to play with. As well as this, it allows you to make use of some amazing locations, which they do with some stunning locals from both Spain and Malta. Also, the action really resonated back to those first games, with building climbing and parkour on full show. I did like they used a father/son team to show a character over time. All of this is set with a really great musical score, and I liked the motif of the eagle used to transition between time and locations.
However, there are still many issues with Assassin’s Creed which stop it from truly shining and stepping forth from the train wreck of movie adaptions behind it. Now to explore this we will look at more general decisions where the film stumbled, which you may consider to be spoilers so proceed at your own risk if that concerns you, before moving on to talk about explicit issues with the story at which point full spoilers will be in effect.
The first big issue is how the movie splits between the past and the present, and how it decided to do that. In both the games and movies this is undertaken by a device called an Animus which unlock memories in your blood. This allows Assassin’s Creed the game to be both in the near future and also in the Holy Lands during the Crusade. The big issue is in all the Assassin’s Creed games the bit set in the present is never as interesting as the stuff set in the past. Unfortunately, this is something the movie also has with it, and more problematically we spend much more time in the present than we do in the past. This is for two reasons, one like Warcraft they seem to be trying to set up a franchise so they spend more time in the present setting up all the moving pieces. However, the next reason comes from the design of the Animus which was the more problematic factor for me. In the games the Animus was like a high-tech bed you laid in, here it is some kind of mechanical harness with a holographic interface. Now this in itself is not the problem, the problem is that the harness mimics what Callum is seeing and the movements he is making so during every action sequence we are constantly cutting from the action on a Spanish rooftop to Michael Fassbender jumping around a room. Every time this happen it ripped me out of the movie, but more importantly, it ruined the flow of the action. When it came to the action when we got to see a complete sequence it was quite good, bar a moment when our protagonists run/jump across some ropes which looked like they had gotten confused with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon for a moment.
When it comes to the casting I think Michael Fassbender did his best with the role, and it is down to his charisma that even the most ridiculous issues with the story can almost be forgiven. However, there are some big issues with the story, and because of that SPOILERS are now engaged. The first issue is the movie kind of cops out with regards to the central premise of Assassin’s Creed which is that powerful people have been faking important points in our history for their own gain, all religions were faked using the devices of which the Appel of Adam is one of, but also a lot of the key industry milestones, even evolution was faked to cover-up the truth of humanity in the Assassin’s Creed universe. This is an incredibly controversial if not fascinating central premise that feeds into the ‘history but not as we know it’ motif of all the games. However, in the film, bar one throwaway line, they steer clear and the story suffers because of it. Another issue is, there is a real lack of assassinations in a movie called Assassin’s Creed. Now I am not saying they should have gone down the R-rated film route, but it felt like this was one aspect where they dropped the ball a little. As well as this, just in general it really feels like the story putters out at the end. For most of the film it felt like they could not decide what character arc to give Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) which makes what she does at the end feel really false, and then what she does after the big climatic event makes you go, wait what, how does that work? It kind of feels like they didn’t have a real good handle on what to do after Spain, so instead of ending on a high, you feel like the film should have ended 15 minutes earlier than it did.
Now I feel like I have been quite critical here, but out of all the recent video game adaptations Assassin’s Creed had the best chance of escaping the curse, and while it does do better than its counterparts, it was also full of missed opportunities. So will we ever get the fabled Lord of the Rings comparison, well I am always an optimist and as new filmmakers who were brought up playing video games start making movies, maybe one of them will be able to, and who knows maybe it will be then next film that will do it, which is … Resident Evil: The Final Chapter… oh well never mind then. However, until then Assassin’s Creed is still the benchmark video game adaptations and while it has its flaws it still is quite entertaining.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Justin Kurzel
Screenplay by – Michael Lesslie, Adam Cooper & Bill Collage
Based on – Assassin’s Creed by Ubisoft
Music by – Jed Kurzel
Cinematography by – Adam Arkapaw
Starring – Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Ariane Labed, Brendan Gleeson, Brian Gleeson, Michael K. Williams & Charlotte Rampling
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13