Assassin’s Creed begins with Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) on death row for the murder of a pimp. He is rescued from his execution by Dr. Sofia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard), and whisked off to a massive compound in Madrid, Spain. He learns that the Knights Templar have been at war with The Brotherhood of Assassins for centuries, and he is the last in the bloodline of a key member of the Spanish Brotherhood. Sofia and her father, Alan (Jeremy Irons) use a device known as the Animus to tap into Callum’s genetic memories and uncover the location of a powerful device known as The Apple of Eden. It is up to Lynch to be the deciding factor in the fate of the Assassin’s future.
The Ins and Outs of Assassin’s Creed
I know that synopsis is a lot to take in, so pause. Take a breath. As you may know, the film is based on the massive franchise of video games based on the same name. If you’re a fan of the series, none of this is new to you. However, casual fans and non-fans might have a hard time with the jargon in this world full of Templars and Assassins. And that’s always the rub with video game movies, isn’t it? A fanbase for the material already exists. However, that will not be enough to justify the expense of a film. So, you have to create new fans. But how do you do that without alienating the die-hards or those with a passing knowledge of the existing material? This issue has plagued video game adaptations for decades. And as games become more cinematic and narrative-driven, I don’t see that coming to an end soon. This is also the main issue that stands in the way of Assassin’s Creed becoming the first good video game adaptation.
What Makes and Breaks The Film
Assassin’s Creed is a frustrating experience. The film wants to aspire to so much more than it does. Its thematic landscape is dotted with so many beautiful outcroppings on which to land, and it never does. Sometimes it brushes up against a great theme or moment. But then it gives way to an ever increasing torrent of exposition. Assassin’s Creed is obsessed with exposition. There are long stretches of the film wherein Callum doesn’t get to say a word because other folks are talking at him to move the plot along. The whole piece becomes so caught up in telling the story that it forgets to color it in or add bells and whistles. And in no area does that show more than the characters.
The characters of Assassin’s Creed are baffling. Motivations are murky at best. Emotional stakes lack clear definition. Loyalties switch from scene to scene with seemingly no real rhyme or reason as to why. So when there finally is a meaty character scene, it shines. But there is only one scene like that in this movie. It’s a mild spoiler, so I will leave it be, but it involves Callum and his father. The cast is chock-full of incredible talent that goes completely to waste. Michael Fassbender is one of the best of his generation. And Marion Cotillard has an academy award under her belt. Also, this is the second time this year Jeremy Irons is completely mis-used by a blockbuster movie. With the exception of Callum’s Spanish counterpart, none of the Assassin’s in the past recieve names. The entirety of the film’s resolution rests on the shoulders of an unnamed group of Lynch’s fellow prsioners. They become major players late in the movie, and some of them give their lives for the cause. But as a viewer, I felt nothing.
The list of disappointments for Assassin’s Creed seem endless. The action is chock-full of shaky-cam, but mostly works. The entire film is well shot, but lacks a sense of visual storytelling. A lot of the visuals look cool with no motivation. The problem is, all of these people, including director Justin Kurzel, are capable of better work than this. But Assassin’s Creed is a soupy mess that brushes against greatness seemingly by accident. The performances are decent since none of these actors are truly capable of a bad performance. However, they are consistently led astray by the shortcomings of every other aspect of the film.