Assassin’s Creed Movie Review
Another huge videogame franchise, another movie adaptation, another project lost between the conflicting formats; we all know the drill by now. Assassin’s Creed is the latest attempt in translating a popular videogame into a film, but the same nagging issues from previous endeavors hold it back from succeeding where others have failed. Whereas a lack of intrinsic characterization may be forgiven amidst the chaotic battles in the context of an action-based videogame, the medium of film, with its more passive qualities, requires a certain level of character-building. This proves a problem when even the mighty Michael Fassbender seems to lack credence in portraying his leading role.
The film follows troubled assassin-to-be Callum Lynch (Fassbender), a man still reeling from the death of his mother at the hands of his father. After waking up from what was meant to be his lawful execution, Callum finds himself in a medical institution run by a menacing society known as the Templars. It is here where the facility head scientist, Dr. Sophia Rikkin, tasks him with locating the apple of Eden. In order to achieve this task, Callum must enter the Animus, a giant mechanical claw that synchronizes his genetic code with that of his Spanish 15th-century assassin descendant, Aguilar De Nerha, the last known person to be in possession of the apple. What follows is an archetypal, quasi-religious battle between the Assassins (good guys) and the Templars (bad guys).
If it sounds crazy, that’s because it is. The premise allows the film to operate in two different timelines that highlight the best and the worst the film has to offer. The sterile cleanliness of the institution juxtaposes effectively with the sepia-tinged 15th-century post-inquisition Spain. Unfortunately (and rather bizarrely), the same issues that plagued the original videogames games also happen to wreak havoc here too, but to a worse degree. Aguilar De Nerha is an Assassin sworn to protect the apple from the Templars by any means necessary, but any further background about this character is denied to the audience, mostly due to the brief stints we spend in Spain before returning to the modern-day. Admittedly, the scenes he’s in are the most fun, as he scales walls and performs some of the most extreme and entertaining parkour recorded on film. These fast-paced evasion scenes lifted directly from the videogames lend the film a sense of gravitas. It is unfortunate then, that while the film is at its best here, Aguilar’s character development is severely undercooked, as his motivations and reasons for fighting alongside his assassin companions remain a frustrating mystery.
The scenes in the institution form the majority of the film’s running time, and even here the characters are underutilized, tools with which concoct glaringly obvious plot devices. Michael Fassbender’s Callum is a tortured soul, as the film likes to tell us, but we never truly see that onscreen. Instead, the film focuses on the hallucinogenic relationship between Callum and Aguilar to set the pieces up for the action-heavy last act. The disparity between Callum and Aguilar and their timelines, though pertinent to the film’s plot, fails to resonate because we simply don’t know enough about either character to care. It is Marrion Cotillard’s Dr. Sophia Rikkin and her conflicted and unwilling antagonist that comes closest to portraying a compelling grey area between the two warring factions, but ultimately her character is left out to dry while the Assassins and Templars duke it out.
Where the film excels, it does so with natural aplomb and deadly accuracy. The swift tracking shots of an eagle swooping and diving in-and-around the Spanish villages and cities are as exhilarating as they are graceful. The camera captures glimpses of the chaos of war, but that is all they are – glimpses of a bigger picture that director Justin Kurzel casually glosses over on his way to laying the foundations for the next impressive set-piece. Fans of the Ubisoft franchise can rejoice in the knowledge that all the staples of the prolific series are presented here in spectacular fashion: the assassin’s hidden wrist blade, the cool hood, and even the leaps of faith all play their part in making the film aesthetically pleasing to the eye. The blisteringly-fast action sequences require great physical presence from the cast, and luckily Fassbender and company are up to the challenge. The rooftop parkour sequence stands out in particular, as Aguilar attempts to evade and escape a large group of Templars by athletic wall-running and rope-swinging his way through a crowded city. The same can be said for the fighting choreography, and the pinpoint accuracy of each killing blow, as Aguilar lays waste to a constant stream of incoming enemies. The audience is barely given enough time to breathe before…everything is slowed right down again and we are transported back to the institute for a heavy dose of exposition and scene stalling.
It’s frustrating, then, how Assassin’s Creed, despite its best intentions, still finds itself residing in the failed videogame/movie adaptation camp. Ironically it turns into a game of “whose story is it anyway?” as an unintentional tug-of-war battle commences between both timelines. Assassin’s Creed does a great job of looking the part in terms of spectacle but is undermined by overly simplistic and vague characters in a film that doesn’t quite know where it needs to be.