Assassin’s Creed: Review

Nothing is true, Everything is permitted

Video game film adaptations have a stigma attached to them, and rightly so, impressively missing the mark almost 100% of the time. Ubisoft are looking to change all this with Assassin’s Creed. It’s hard to not be excited when looking at the names associated with the adaptation, Justin Kurzel is in the director’s chair and reunites himself the stars of his 2015 hit Macbeth, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. An all-star cast, the beautiful cinematography and visceral action sequences ultimately do not do enough to save Assassin’s Creed from its paper-thin lacklustre plot.

Assassin’s Creed has a long and quite convoluted backstory, it currently spans 10 games after all, and the films first move is actually quite remarkable; taking the history of Assassins vs. Templars and use of genetic memories to track down historic artefacts in the present day, boiling it down into a succinct paragraph. It’s just enough information for anyone unfamiliar with Assassin’s Creed without resorting to huge amounts of exposition.

Fassbender and Cotillard in Abstergo

We are immediately dropped into 14th century Spain for a brief introduction to Aguilar (Fassbender) as he is inducted into the Assassin’s Creed. Before leaping forward through time to the 1980s, where we meet the younger version of Fassbender’s present day character Callum Lynch as he learns a little of the Creed and his heritage. So far so good we have the historic and present day set up with minimal exposition.

In the present day, Lynch is captured by the Abstergo Foundation and forced to relive his genetic memories. Unfortunately this from this moment onwards the film starts to fall apart. Abstergo is a bland soulless white walled facility, which is intentional; it’s clinical, sinister and offers next to no insight into its motives. Almost fittingly this is exactly how every character feels in the film. Father-daughter team Sophia and Allan Rikkin (Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons) are the Abstergo scientists who want something from Lynch’s past. Abstergo has “The Animus”, a machine designed to retrieve genetic memories of the user’s ancestors allowing them to relive history; Lynch must enter The Animus to experience the life of his ancestor Aguilar during the time of the Spanish inquisition, ultimately to find the location of an artefact called the Apple of Eden.

The Animus in the movie is more of a harness compared to the game’s high-tech Chaise Lounge

Absurdity of the situation aside, Fassbender, Cotillard and Irons give some really good performances committing to their roles, the problem with the film isn’t the performance it’s with the writing. Lynch has no character development whatsoever, his journey from criminal to assassin happens almost instantly, there is no progression, no lesson learned and no real obstacles for him to overcome to become a “hero”. We learn a few things about his past and his father but none of it seems of any consequence to Lynch therefore his heroic transformation, which happens in the blink of an eye, left no impression whatsoever.

Sophia is an idealist working within the walls of the morally questionable Abstergo, almost completely opposed to her father’s motives. Sophia wants to, in her own words, “cure violence” and Allan wants to “eradicate free will”, ones a noble cause and the other is overtly evil causing an obvious friction between the two. Neither of their motives gets enough screen time or explanation and by the end of the film are long forgotten and ultimately inconsequential to the outcome. Sophia and Allan at least have an interesting relationship and their differences of opinions are entertaining to watch, especially when compared to their interactions with Lynch who seems to simply accept his fate and offer no conflict.

Abstergo also houses several other test subjects digging into their own ancestral archives. Michael Kenneth Williams plays Moussa who, along with a smattering of others, seem to be hatching a plan to escape the facility and want to take Lynch with them worried that he will help Abstergo find the Apple. These characters are criminally underused and what should have been an important and interesting subplot about the modern day struggle between Assassins and Templars just falls flat.

Speaking of Assassins vs. Templars, there’s also the events of 500 years ago to focus on. Fassbender also plays the Assassin Aguilar in the historic portions of the film. These sections are stunning to watch and the action sequences are beautifully shot and choreographed. Quick cuts back to the present day show Lynch attached to The Animus performing the actions of his ancestor, which serves as a very effective visual reminder of what is really going on and that Lynch is still the main protagonist.

The iconic Leap of Faith

Aguilar’s surroundings and interactions are drastically different to Lynch’s not only because of the time periods but in how they feel. Speech is entirely in Spanish and kept to a minimum, action is the focus here. It’s a nice change of pace from the dialogue heavy Abstergo surroundings. Watching Aguilar and his assassin companions tear through the dusty Spanish streets and free running over rooftops is exhilarating and the fight scenes are wonderfully choreographed, combined with free flowing camera work weaving in and out of the environment is the closest the film comes to replicating any of the visceral action the game offers.

As well crafted as the past is, Assassin’s Creed takes us there on just three occasions. Aguilar is even more of an enigma the Lynch, not by design; there is zero connection to anyone in these sections of Assassin’s Creed simply because we do not spend enough time there. It’s useful to note here that the games are about 80/20 split between the past and present; the film takes the opposite approach focusing more on the present day. Unfortunate, because all the important information, the Creed, the Templars and the Apple of Eden, is all rooted in the past. Since we are dropped in at random intervals in Aguilar’s mission to retrieve the Apple of Eden, it’s nigh on impossible to care about what is going on. These moments feel simply like vignettes of a different film with a more interesting story; a story that feels incomplete and one where we are never truly able to experience the whole picture.

Assassin’s creed set out to change the way we look at video game movies, the idea was to take the basic principals and build upon them with a cast of characters created just for the film, so it could weave its own original story. While the characters may have been fresh and invented solely for the film the constant homage and nods to the game series make it seem forced. Players spend tens of hours on a game and attempting to transplant all the stories and ideas into a two hour movie leaves no time for any of it to sink in, that is Assassin’s Creed’s biggest misstep; the unnecessary connection to the past and lack of originality and conviction to make a leap of faith.

– Dan P