As a fan of the video game franchise in question, I was not opposed to the idea of a big screen adventure. I mean, movies based on video games have always worked out quite well in the past, haven’t they? Okay, I admit, they don’t have the best track record. But with Justin Kurzel in the director’s chair and the one-two combo of Fassbender and Cotillard starring, it should be a winner, right? Well, no, as it happens. What we’ve got here is something that is ponderous and overly melodramatic when it should have been a fun adventure story. With assassins.
Things start off reasonably well. We are way back in Europe 1492, as the Assassins induct Aguilar (Fassbender) into their order. Everything looks cool and moody, and nobody speaks in English. Good, nice attention to detail.
The Assassins are tasked with protecting the Apple throughout time. The Apple allows individuals to control the free will of others, and… snoring.
Sorry, I must have dozed off. Believe it or not, this is a plot point taken directly from the video games. While there it’s something that works quite well, here it’s… well, sci-fi hokum, quite frankly. And I say this as a longterm science fiction geek. Then again, I suppose I should be used to it.
There’s a reason why the games decided to spend less and less time in the future world – because it’s not very interesting. The same applies here.
It is these future elements, where Fassbender plays Aguilar’s descendant Callum, where it really drags. The Templars are a really boring bunch and I couldn’t really care any less about their plans for world domination. It might have helped if Kurzel had done something to visually separate the past and present sequences. As it is, they all sort of meld into one big, disturbing collage.
Callum’s due to be executed but is taken away by Abstergo, a shady and sinister company with nefarious intentions. Cotillard is wasted in a role that serves almost no purpose, and one where the character’s motives and actions are often in contradiction with each other.
As far as the plot goes, Callum is strapped into a machine, the Animus (looking like a giant claw) that lets him access the memories of his ancestors. In the one cool aspect of the present day storyline, Callum is able to learn all the same skills and abilities as his ancestor in the Assassin order. The rest of the time, when he’s not in the machine, the film consists of lots of people standing around looking depressed, Abstergo employees and prisoners alike.
It’s almost as if they wrote the script and then never thought about perhaps letting the audience in on what’s happening. I appreciate that in the games it’s not the most clear cut storyline in the world, but they manage to easily separate out the past and future worlds quite clearly. Why was this such a herculean task in the movie? If you’re going to make an art film about Assassin’s Creed then tell a clear story. Don’t obfuscate when there’s no need for it.
The troubles don’t end with the script. Casting, too, seems to mostly be a miss. Fassbender is decent enough as both as Aguilar and Callum, but neither of them really gets the opportunity to shine. Cotillard as said above is wasted and is deserving of a far better character. Brendan Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling are little more than cameos. It’s almost to the point where I questioned why they bothered accepting the role. Take an extended doze and you’ll miss them completely. Meanwhile for Jeremy Irons there is the distinct whiff of Dungeons and Dragons about his performance. In other words, he phones it in.
It doesn’t help that Jeremy Iron’s character is called Alan Rikkin. I kept thinking about Alan Rickman every time he showed up. In an alternate reality that would have made for a far more entertaining picture.
After the success of their Macbeth adaptation it’s understandable that the creative team behind it would want to get back together for another project. I’m a big fan of that film too, I don’t think that this was the best choice for their next project. Whether it’s because of interference from Ubisoft, the studio that make the games, or a basic misunderstanding over how to adapt the source material isn’t clear. What is abundantly clear, however, is this just doesn’t work. The Assassin creed of “Nothing is forbidden, everything is permitted” is, ironically, not applicable to this movie.