Review: ASSASSIN'S CREED Dies a Bloodless Death

Michael Fassbender tries his hand at action hero in the big budget video game adaptation Assassin's Creed.

Featured Critic; St. Louis, MO
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Review: ASSASSIN'S CREED Dies a Bloodless Death

When it comes to movies that are based on video games, so many of them seem to be about “The One”. Yet, when it comes to said movies actually being any good, there's been “No One.” Beautifully photographed, immaculately designed, and boasting a stunningly lofty cast, this long-in-coming adaptation of the prolific game series Assassin's Creed soars from the gate with tremendous promise. Might this be the one…?

Just as the child version of Michael Fassbender's modern day protagonist first soars from a rooftop as he attempts to jump his bike to a neighboring rooftop, so to does the film. Unfortunately, also like the ill-advised stunt in question, it comes crashing down in failure a mere moment later. Few major productions take their audience from such a pronounced level of “Wow” to “I'm really ready for this to be over” so quickly.

That's not to say that Assassin's Creed doesn't have a lot going for it; it most certainly does. And that's the great pain it. It's the kind of aesthetic effort that ultimately cannot save a lumbering, predictable dour narrative such as this. As the fifteen-plus minutes of closing credits attest, a supreme amount of care, cash, and man-hours went into the making of this movie. The greater good is that a lot of people earned a lot of good money while working on this project.

Fassbender plays Cal Lynch, a death row inmate who's time has come. Not his time to die, which he's about to do when he's introduced, but rather, his time to fight! Reeling throughout his entire life from the apparent murder of his mother at the hands of his father, the troubled adult Lynch awakens in a sterile and stark secret facility, snatched away literally in his final seconds, for study, observation and training by a scientist named Sofia, played by Marion Cotillard.

Sofia works for overlord Jeremy Irons, who's not even trying to conceal his devilish villainy under his black turtleneck. The whole operation is the modern day incarnation of the Knights Templar, in this case a holy order devoted to recovering the original Apple of Eden. This has been their quest for at least 500 years, back when medieval warfare was medieval warfare. (Actually, it's all noticeably, even distractingly, bloodless.)

With the sacred Apple, its wielder obtains a behavioral control over humanity – something, it's stated, that the Templar organization has tried and failed at throughout history. Religion, politics, and now consumerism – all have failed to make us less violent toward one another.

Opposing Templar are the order of Assassins, an ancient bunch of master killers who seek to protect free will. (Confession: As uninterested as I was in all of this by this time, this is the level of sense it made. Every minute that ticked by, the less engaged I became and simply settled into “looking at it”. Your milage may vary.) Lynch, while in containment, learns of his Assassin heritage, and develops the ability to interact with the memories of the warrior of 500 years ago, Aguilar. He, Sofia knows, is The One she's been looking for...

Through repeatedly being wired into an impressively giant multi-point virtual reality gimbel, and a lot of cross-cutting, Lynch experiences the battle from the grueling comfort of his own Danger Room confinement. By the third go-round, I was rooting for the machine to break down. That lead to wondering about how many technicians are qualified to fix such a rig.

Filmmaker Justin Kurzel, who previously steered Fassbender to interesting results in 2015's Macbeth, once again steps into a past age with the actor in the lead. Director of Photography Adam Arkapaw, another veteran of Macbeth, has put his all and then some into the fantastically controlled feel of this film. Nearly every shot set in the warring past is still-frame worthy. Too bad the movie has no pulse.

Having never played any of the many Assassin's Creed video games that have been put out, I can't say how this functions as an adaptation, or which game it might be based upon. I have, however, seen countless action films and blockbusters, and among those, this one ranks unfortunately low.

As for the cast, the would-be pleasures of seeing Charlotte Rampling act opposite Jeremy Irons, or Brendan Gleeson interact with Fassbender or Cotillard is snuffed by the material. Here they all are, in a video game adaptation. Their participation is far more of a dichotomy than Sir Ralph Richardson turning up as the Supreme Being in Time Bandits. His character, incidentally, utters the central conceit of Assassin's Creed: “I think it has something to do with free will.”

Even with this cast, and these production values, a good video game could not be rendered. With this level of effort proving unsuccessful, is it worth rebooting this sub-genre for another go?

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Jeremy IronsJustin KurzelMarion CotillardMichael Fassbender

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Around the Internet

One-EyeDecember 20, 2016 11:10 PM

I had fairly high hopes for this, considering the people involved.

I'll still get along and see it. I quite like the games.

wagnerfilmDecember 21, 2016 2:03 AM

As an AC game-franchise devotee, I was afraid of this, when I heard that the vast majority of the script was going to take place in the game's sci-fi setting of Abstergo. This is the most rubbish part of the games, as any fan of the game franchise will tell you. Whenever any of the action shifts to the future from the past, interest and enjoyment levels drop precipitously. By having to spend so much time expositioning audiences to death with all the nonsense lore and backstory, the filmmakers fail to deliver the movie fans would have preferred (and which would have been hella more accessible to general moviegoers): a straightforward, badass alternate-history action adventure epic.

Jerry SköldDecember 21, 2016 3:50 AM

Gah! And I was so, so catiously optimistic. I´ll probably see it anyway for the art direction, but...

JasonDecember 21, 2016 4:02 AM

Not true. That's your opinion. I'm a MASSIVE fan of the games, and the modern portions are not rubbish. Quite the opposite when done well! Regardless of opinion though, they ARE, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the frames at which every piece of "art" (i.e. the historical time period) encases. The bookends of each volume. This is NOT a series of historical games (or movies).
It is a sci-fi battle-against-good-and-evil in which an object of that science fiction enables us to visit amazing historical settings. But remember, it's to always to come back to the modern line with the information obtained in history. Make no mistake, it is not simply a historical game. The mythology/lore... the religious and political symbolism is strong, and is only truly grasped through the hindsight of a modern age arc.

And it's obvious that this was always the vision of Ubisoft for AC... it was always meant to be this bit of a genre mashup. A historical game and a science fiction game. The former does not exist without the latter.

What has steered Ubisoft the wrong direction is listening TOO much to what fans say about the series. There's some accolades to be given to Ubi for being so invested in their fans' opinions, but they have gone too far. Too many varied opinions... they'll never come close to pleasing everyone.

They need to go back to their root vision and play that story out. Those of us who enjoy that will play. Those that don't, can put their controllers down.

What's specifically wrong with this movie, is atrocious writing. The screenplay had to have been a disaster. Or there was too much studio pressure, or there's a lot on the "cutting room floor." Maybe a combination of those... or mybe all three. It's wildly common in Hollywood. And the movie reeks of THOSE kinds of problems. Not the overall modern mythology of Assassins Creed. People like you never really "got" the games if your OP is what you believe.

wagnerfilmDecember 22, 2016 8:26 PM

Dude, like you, I've played all the games, and I assure you I "get" Ubisoft's general vision in the way it's designed the franchise to link all of the different time periods into a consistent series mythology. It's hardly deep. I just don't agree that it's the games' most interesting narrative gimmick, and it's certainly inessential to enjoying gameplay or feeling immersed in the world each installment creates. If you know anyone who's played the Ezio trilogy and says with complete honesty "My favorite bits to play are the Desmond sequences," well, you've met the one fan I haven't.

The mistake the film makes, it seems, is in trying to make the Abstergo framing story central to the script. As superfluous as everything about Abstergo is, sure, it can be made to "work" in the context of an open-world game where 100 hours of playtime is average and gamers are given sufficient time to absorb the convolutions that naturally come from such elaborate lore-building. With only two hours to tell its story, the movie needed to simply be about Aguilar in his time. The only way to have incorporated the game's lore properly would have been to go the Westworld route, as a series.

wagnerfilmDecember 31, 2016 11:10 PM

Okay, I have finally seen it, and can announce it's not nearly the disaster it's being made out to be. Though it's most certainly more likely to be appreciated by fans of the games than anyone who's never played them. But the script, while boasting a very silly premise and plenty of amusing moments of sheer convenience, isn't an incoherent mess either, and though the plot is excessively busy it doesn't lack clarity. I'd give around a 6.5. Both the action choreography and musical score are excellent.