Review: Assassin’s Creed (2017)

The word ‘ass’ appears twice in the name. Seems appropriate.

Assassin’s Creed (2017).

Director: Justin Kurzel (Snowtown, Macbeth).

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Michael K. Williams.

“What the fuck is going on?”

These words are uttered by Michael Fassbender’s character Callum Lynch roughly half an hour into the Assassin’s Creed film, the first of many video game-to-film
adaptations coming from video game developer Ubisoft’s catalogue of franchises.

It serves as an apt description of the entire movie.

Assassin’s Creed is a forgettable, somewhat enjoyable, dull, dark, two-hour experience that will be forgotten about as quickly as the last game in the series. A passive film that will enjoy no fanfare nor any celebration, but instead will be treated as simply one,
giant advertisement for the franchise, just as Ubisoft intended.

And that’s a real shame, because Assassin’s Creed could have been so much more.

Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender in Assassin’s Creed | 20th Century FOX

The previous team up between Fassbender, Marion Cotillard and director Justin Kurzel resulted in the critically praised Macbeth, so an Assassin’s Creed adaptation should be Shakespeare in the Park, right? Wrong.

Warning signs appeared when a producer stated that the majority of the movie will take place in the present. “65 percent in the present and 35 percent in the past”. There’s no doubt the present story is important in the games, but no-one plays these titles to walk around Abstergo headquarters. The appeal is in roaming around cities, assassinating historical figures of the past.

But I digress, maybe this cast of seasoned actors can lift the film from the mediocrity that we’ve seen from other video game adaptations.

Or not.

I must inform you, reader, that even with a star-studded cast, the Academy Award nominated Michael Fassbender, the Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard, and the Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons, the film suffers from a lack of passion. Irons mumbles his way throughout the film, dressed in clothes he put on at home and looking utterly bored, a trait Cotillard shares as character whose name I cannot remember. Her father issues are the only thing that define her, making her incredibly two-dimensional. Only in fleeting moments does Fassbender seem to wake up and put in something of a performance. Callum Lynch is a dreary ‘protagonist’, whereas his Spanish ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha, is much more interesting, despite having fewer lines.

Michael Fassbender in Assassin’s Creed | 20th Century FOX

For what it lacks in story and script, the film makes up for after being dropped into the middle of the Spanish Inquisition, leading into some fantastic action. Long tracking shots are followed by intense assassinations and skirmishes. At least that’s what’s inferred by the editing, which suffers from a disease that most modern blockbusters appear to have caught. A shaky camera coupled with quick-cuts which imply action, rather than let the viewer see it. But it’s still feels visceral and brutal, the action sequences are only parts of the film where it feels like the director was directly copying from the games. A dark, muted filter is ever-present in these historical scenes, making it even harder to see what’s going on. I’m not suggesting that the Spanish Inquisition was a particularly beautiful place, but there’s an excessive use of dirty brows, blue and greys.

Despite fighting the filter and colour grading, the costumes for the Assassins were impressive, as were the sets. Nothing looked particularly out-of-place, and Fassbender’s dedication to getting in shape and performing much of the stunts and parkour himself is appreciated. Fassbender as Aguilar was much more convincing and enjoyable than Fassbender as Lynch. It’s a shame then, that as soon as you start settling into the 15th century, the film decides that’s enough and brings you out of the Animus, into present day.

I won’t go into depth about the plot, mostly because it’s rather shallow. Callum Lynch is executed but not really and is made to find an artefact, The Apple of Eden, which contains the ‘genetic code for free will’ (don’t ask) so that the Templars can get rid of violence and conquer the world, I guess. It’s not really explained that well, a common theme across the film. We’re left with several subplots that are left hanging so they can be explored further in the inevitable sequel, something the film’s ending has no shame in asking for. The Animus, the ‘bleeding effect’, the modern-day Assassins could all benefit from some expository dialogue to at least give the viewer a chance. Verbal diarrhea should be avoided more often than not, but I felt like this film needed it.

Overall, Assassin’s Creed suffers from a poorly written script and an incoherent plot. Despite the high calibre actors in the cast, even they can’t make a mediocre script good. The inflated budget helps the film to shine in its historical set pieces, but for Assassin’s Creed, it was game over before the movie had even started.

I guess we’re looking toward the next Tomb Raider reboot for the first ‘great’ video game-to-film adaptation.


Feature image courtesy of 20th Century FOX.

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