Assassin’s Creed Is Truly a Video Game Movie – Unfortunately
Last year, the director of Assassin’s Creed – Justin Kurzel – worked with Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) and Marion Cotillard (The Dark Knight Rises) on a stylistic adaptation of Macbeth, that classic Shakespeare story about the greed for power. Kurzel imbued that film with a visual palette that set apart its dialogue-filled chapters and slow-motion gory, visceral action sequences, and conveyed the gravitas of the lives of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth by focusing inherently on the characters’ emotions, the weight of their decisions, and reactions.
The critical success of that film bode was a promising sign for the first adaptation of the video game series Assassin’s Creed, which reunites all three talents. Unfortunately, Kurzel’s new film falls prey to the same things that haunt today’s blockbusters – in that it gets too busy with explaining its backstory, and emphasising its importance.
It mistakes great storytelling to be a collection of historic references, rather than a deeply personal relationship with its protagonists. Moreover, the film takes itself far too seriously, allowing Fassbender only a single moment of piercing humour, after which it quickly lapses back into a dour mood.
Assassin’s Creed benefits from having Fassbender in the lead, whose expertise in straight faces and perma-frown, lends the film an air of serious drama that it very eagerly desires. It even maximises the use of its main actor by giving him two roles – one of Cal Lynch in the 21st-century, a death row convict who is spared execution with the help of a mysterious benefactor, Dr Sofia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard); and another of Aguilar in the 15th-century, a master assassin who is part of an ancient secret society, whose motives are never quite clear (and very likely do not matter).
Though Fassbender is given two characters to work with, both sadly have nothing to offer beyond a one-note performance. Since the movie couldn’t bear to make him an out-and-out killer, it tries to redeem things by having the person Cal killed be a pimp, which is inadvertently hilarious. Aguilar, meanwhile, is viewed only through the lens of his mission, which brings us to a convoluted plot, thanks to the long (and possibly unnecessary) backstory behind Creed games.
Here’s what it’s all about: Cal is saved because his blood, and DNA, have connections to the past. He’s a direct descendant of Aguilar, who was part of the Assassin Brotherhood, and had knowledge of an artefact known as the Apple of Eden, which is believed to hold “the genetic code of free will”. How is that? Nobody knows, and it doesn’t matter.
What does matter are the people who want it, the Knights Templar, who have been at war with the Brotherhood for centuries. They are using Sofia and her place of work – Abstergo Foundation – which has a machine known as the Animus that can access Cal’s past and memories all the way back to Aguilar.
It’s ridiculously complex, owing to the writers at Ubisoft who have concocted this tale out of conspiracy theories and religious doctrine over the last decade. The film has so much to explain and preach about that it struggles to exposit everything, even with Cal who is there as an audience surrogate.