Major Spoilers Ahead
“We work in the dark, to serve the light. We are Assassins”
Synopsis: “Years after the death of his parents Callum Lynch is captured by Abstergo Industries in order to further their hunt for The Apple of Eden. Strapped into a machine known as The Animus, Callum relives the memories of his ancestor Aguilar De Nerha, the last known person to have the Apples whereabouts”
This isn’t going to be a huge and angry rant on how there are no good video game films, that subject has been discussed to death and for a very good reason, that there are no good video game films. Assassin’s Creed, sadly, has not broken that streak.
Which is more disappointing than sad now that I think about it, because Assassin’s Creed would seem to be a prime candidate for a feature adaptation. Especially since one thing that adaptations need to do is cut the fat of the source material so to speak, but games have a lot of fat to cut, as do games in general. A big part of video games, especially Assassin’s Creed, is repetition. Whereas films have to keep moving forward. This is the main reason why Assassin’s Creed is such an odd disappointment, it has excised the repetition of the games, but retained the tedium. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, warts and all (and there are a lot of warts let me tell you), but I will freely admit that the games can be such a slog in regards to how Ubisoft handles their sandbox games. So I was excited for this film, the trailers made it look a lot more action packed than it actually is. Add Micheal Fassbender, Jeremy Irons and Marion Cotillard in there and it looks like we had a winner.
Unfortunately not. This film is slow and lacks any and all personality, unless that personality is of someone who thinks they’re saying a lot more than they actually are. This leads me to another problem the film has. It puts forward an odd statement/point as the crux of The Knights Templars reason for searching for The Apple of Eden, a seemingly magical all-powerful macguffin that can eradicate all free-will on the planet, that point being that violence is hereditary and therefore everyone has the potential to be evil or a criminal. Hence the Templars searching for The Apple.It’s an interesting point for sure, even if slightly (and by slightly I mean ridiculously) dodgy from a scientific perspective, the film does absolutely nothing with it, nothing of interest to analyse that particular point it states. It’s just used as motivation for the bad guys, nothing more. It honestly feels like this film was written by the team who wrote Prometheus where anything philosophical or spiritual that was up for debate was secondary to the action set pieces involving the characters that you don’t feel attached to.
Speaking of which, this is something that I’ve noticed in a lot of Hollywood popcorn films. There is no effort to endear us to the main cast, none at all. Fassbender is stoic and statue-esque as both Callum or Aguilar de Nerha (his Assassin Ancestor), with the only time he even comes across as vaguely human being when he cracks a couple of jokes at the expense of other inmates in the Abstergo facility where he is being held captive. The villains are just dull. Plain, dull and paper thin. Marion Cotillard comes across as almost bored in every one of her scenes with or without anyone to interact with and Jeremy Irons comes across as actually bored with his voice never reaching higher than the volume of a marketing executive who’s just unveiled his next big line of printer paper to a room full of equally dead eyed and soulless executives.
Even the story and feel of this film feels hilariously phoned in. It’s basically a re-tread of the first Assassin’s Creed game, just without Desmond Miles (although that can only be seen as a point in this films favour) and with a few plot points and story beats re-arranged as well as changing the protagonists intensely cookie cutter back story. Which is another bug-bear I have with screenwriters these days, back story and motivation that feels like a column of numbers or a check list. Let me show you:
- Dead Parents (Check)
- Stoic and dismissive attitude (Check)
- Borderline rudeness to potential help (Check)
- Uncaring outward persona (Check)
This is not good character building. The best characters in fiction (I find at least, your mileage may vary) are the ones that feel like people, they feel like they can laugh, get angry and have lived through more events than having their parents be killed. I’m not trying to devalue losing a loved one, of course I’m not it’s a terrible thing to have to go through. But in fiction? It’s the most overused trope there is as to why a character is in pain. I think the one below that is having a secret identity and if I started going on about that here, this review would be about ten miles long.
Getting back to the story it certainly feels like Assassin’s Creed. Two stories, one of the modern day and one set in a specific historical period where the action takes place. Both are equally dull. It actually feels like a reverse of the games, where nobody cares about Desmond Miles and what’s going on in the modern day, but everyone loves seeing what Ezio is getting up to. The major difference being spending time with both Callum Lynch and Aguilar de Nerha is about as fun as watching paint dry.
That would seem to be this films biggest problem. Lack of fun. I’m not asking every video game adaptation to be nothing but whizz-bang-kapow fare, there’s absolutely no reason why a film based on a video game can’t also deal with a societal issue or ask questions about morality or any other kind of debate that could be had in an Oscar worthy production. But given that the primary demographic for this film is of course gamers themselves, who most likely play games for fun, wouldn’t you want the film that finally breaks the streak of awful adaptations to bring some of that fun to the big screen. This kind of strange exorcism of fun actually reminds me another adaptation. Fifty Shades of Grey of all things. Bear with me.
I am not saying Fifty Shades of Grey is fun, although judging by the book sales a lot of people do. But when the film came out to almost an universally negative response. A lot of people were saying the same thing, that they went to see it because they expected a stupidly trashy, sex fuelled rampage in tastelessness. People went to see that film because they wanted to see all those insanely raunchy sex scenes on the big screen, I didn’t see a single person who went to that film because they actually thought the books were good. But as it turns out the film had little to none of what made the book so “appealing”, people went in expecting to see this no holds barred BDSM rampage and instead got what amounts to two sex scenes and a lot of talking.
Has the same happened to Assassin’s Creed? The fun of the games has been excised in order to somehow elevate it above it’s source. But in doing so the film has ended up becoming even slower than the games, even more tedious. Full of pretentious waffle about violence and criminality being passed from parent to child instead of what is usually an adventure from one place to the next in search of a fabled treasure. What this film needed was less Prometheus (which oddly enough, also starred Micheal Fassbender) and more Indiana Jones.
Points in this films favour? It does look nice. But that’s like saying a rubbish painting was done by a famous artist.
“It may be crap but it’s well produced crap”
We may have all uttered that statement in our lives but it doesn’t stop the crap from being exactly that. I’ll give the action scenes credit as well. The parkour and chase scenes are very well directed and whilst they do tend to go on for a touch too long it was certainly the closest thing this film did to emulate the fun of the games. The cinematography also, gets a thumbs up. The long sweeping landscape shots are very nice to look at and a long extended shot when Callum first enters the Animus is well done.
However what little this film does right is of course not enough to save it from being a very dull, slow slog through a nice looking but ultimately uninteresting setting. With boring characters, both modern and historical, good action and fight scenes but absolutely nothing to make you care about the people on screen.
Assassin’s Creed (2016)
Director: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling, Micheal K. Williams
Running Time: 1h 55m
Summation: Took a leap of faith. Missed the hay bale. Hard.