For some reason, I was excited for Assassin’s Creed. Despite the expectations of the now labelled bad videogame adaptation genre that has plagued franchises such as Resident Evil and Hitman, I was hoping that Assassin’s Creed would be the one to break the curse. With a strong videogame adaptation, I would definitely be more optimistic for upcoming adaptations, such as Uncharted and The Last of Us. Plus, Assassin’s Creed is my favourite videogame series. Its premise is genius. The idea of reliving the memories of ancestors from a multitude of time periods made for an excellent adventure/action game and actually has the rich and deep background that could translate well into film. It’s such a shame however; that Director Justin Kerzel has crafted one of the most boring films I have seen in a long time, focusing the narrative of the film on the worst parts of the game. The acting is subpar, the characters are just poorly written, and the sections that are actually focusing on the memories of the protagonist’s ancestors are so few and far between, I forgot this was an Assassin’s Creed film.
For those of you who don’t know, the basic plot of the film focuses on Cal Lynch, (Michael Fassbender) a criminal who begins the film on death row as punishment for murder. Once apparently executed, Cal awakens within a strange facility, Abstergo industries where he is now a subject of the project of scientist Sofia (Marion Cotillard). Her objective is to locate an ancient artefact known as The Apple of Eden which The Templar Order (to which Sofia belongs) aims to use to cure the world of evil. However, we suspect that there is a much more sinister plan at work. Sofia alongside her father Alan Rikkin (Jeremy Irons) use Cal to enter the animus, a device that allows individuals to relieve the memories of their ancestors, in this case the Assassin Aguilar de Nerha (also played by Fassbender) in 1492 to locate the Apple. And that’s the basic premise of the film. Like me, you’d probably suspect that this would make for an intriguing introduction to the story, where we would then spend the majority of the film in 1492 with Aguilar and his interactions with the Assassin’s and their conflict with the Templars. Well, I’m sorry to say you’d be wrong.
In what is quite possibly the largest waste of potential I have seen in a long time, we spend around one third of the film in 1492, what we actually wanted to see. The other two thirds of the film are spent in the present day, with Cal coming to terms with the task he must undertake, as well as interacting with his fellow inmates of Abstergo, as well as reconnecting with some individuals from his past. Now this wouldn’t be too bad if what was in present day was compelling, yet it is so boring and lazily written, I just wanted Cal to get back to the animus so we could see more Aguilar. And it’s so frustrating to watch this film, because the 1492 sections with Aguilar have some incredible stunt work and fight choreography that reminded me of why I loved the license. For me, the present day sections in the games were easily the weakest part, but it wasn’t a major issue as they were short and had some interesting plot elements that we could explore in the past. Here however, the filmmakers have swapped round the amount of time we spend in the present day and the past. Whilst there is some interesting set design in Abstergo industries, it doesn’t compare to the amazing world building that we are introduced to in 1492, with some moments of standout cinematography establishing the setting of Andalusia in Spain. For every mediocre fight scene in Abstergo, there’s a great one in 1492, with the use of swords and hidden blades, followed by some impressive chase scenes involving parkour, another trope of the videogames. But the problem is we hardy get any of the past to appreciate the film as a whole. The majority of the present day sections are very slow paced which doesn’t necessarily mean it should be boring. But the dialogue is bland and the situations we are presented with aren’t memorable compared to the events that occur with Aguilar. Jeremy Irons’ sole purpose seems to be staring out of a window; whereas Marion Cotillard just seems to be there as a potential attraction for Cal despite the fact she has had no previous feeling of care towards her other patients. That’s another problem with the present day sections, in that none of the characters are likeable, so we don’t feel any connection to them. Even Cal is a criminal who occasionally gives a cunning one liner, but we don’t have any deep background knowledge of him to sympathise with him. And the characters in the past suffer from a lack of useful scereentime, so we only prefer Aguilar to Cal because of his ability to free run and pull off some cool fighting moves. Despite all these problems, I haven’t yet touched upon my most crucial complaint with the present day sections, and that would be the Animus.
There is no doubt that the film dramatically deviates from how the Animus is used in the videogames. In the games, the Animus is basically a bed that a subject lays in and is transported into the memories of the past. In the film on the other hand, the filmmakers have crafted a far more interesting contraption visually in the form of a robotic arm that grabs hold of a subject and allows the subject to mimic the action of the ancestor in the present day. So for example if Aguilar is fighting a Templar in the past, Cal will be mimicking the fighting moves of Aguilar in the present. This also extends to running and climbing etc. Whilst this doesn’t make much logical sense as running in a straight line would mean Cal would run out of room almost instantly in the area the Animus is located , I understand why they made this change. It’s more visually stimulating and is potentially interesting. My problem is how the Animus is incorporated into the action through the use of cross cutting editing. Whilst Aguilar is involved in combat in 1492, the film will cut on action back to Cal in the Animus. For example, if Aguilar stabs someone with a sword, as he is about to push the sword into the enemy, we cut to Cal pretending to stab someone in Animus. This sounds like a clever editing technique, as we are meant to show Cal learning the techniques of the Assassins, but it is so distracting that we don’t feel the impact of Aguilar’s attacks on his enemies. Assassin’s Creed has elements of brutality in the games, and it feels like the film is so watered down in what can be achieved through the action just to earn the film a 12A rating so 20th Century Fox can get a larger audience to increase the film’s box office returns, hopefully spawning a multi-part franchise. If Kerzel just focused on the impressive cinematography that can be found in the past sections, we would witness some brutal moments that would make us understand what makes the Assassin’s such a powerful group, but constantly cutting to Cal pretending to climb a building or shoot a bow and arrow reduces the excitement of the action sequences.
Also, the use of The Apple of Eden didn’t really work for me in this film. Whilst the aim of obtaining The Apple is at the core of the game series, it spans multiple entries, each at around 15-20 hours of storytelling, In a 2 hour film where only around a third is pent looking for the Apple in the past, we don’t get the sense of adventure and mystery surrounding The Apple, only the fact that it’s powerful. It actually reminded me of the orb in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which sounds like I’m making Guardians of the Galaxy to have a poor core plot element. Yet this isn’t the case, as in that film, the orb factors into an overall storyline of an established franchise that will conclude in upcoming entries to that franchise. In Assassin’s Creed’s case on the other hand, we are only briefly introduced to the concept of The Apple and its powers, and I certainly lost focus on what the aim of The Templars was once I was watching Aguilar in combat.
I have briefly touched upon the positives of this film even though there are only a few. My favourite element of the film is easily the 1492 sections. The settings are beautiful, the costume design is exquisite and the action that does take place within them is enthralling, which makes it even more infuriating that every five seconds during the action sequences we have to keep cutting to the actions of Cal in the Animus. Michael Fassbender does give a decent performance of Cal Lynch and Aguilar yet he is limited by scereentime with Aguilar and Cal is just unlikeable, so unfortunately there isn’t much to work with. Cotillard is serviceable as is Irons, and the brief appearances from the respected Brendan Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling as a former Assassin and a high order Templar respectively are appreciated. Cal’s fellow Abstergo inmates allow for a couple of comedic moments that got a couple of laughs in the cinema I was in, and they served well as combatants in the present day fight sequences. The free running is barely present in the film but what we do get is impressive, even though YouTube videos of professional free runners in Assassin Creed outfits are just as if not more spectacular. I would touch on the music, yet I cannot really remember any of it, which is positive in that it wasn’t awful but also a negative as it obviously wasn’t memorable.
What worries me is that the film ends as if we should be begging for a sequel, and to be honest I doubt that the sequel will happen. With a production budget of $125 million, Assassin’s Creed has not performed well at the domestic US box office, and has so far grossed around $95 million worldwide. Taking into account marketing costs, the film will have to perform well over $200 million before it can even hope to make a profit, meaning that this looks like the latest in a long line of disappointing box office bombs. And in a way, that’s a good thing. The filmmakers need to see that audiences don’t just go to the cinema to see something because of the brand. We expect quality and hopefully in the future we will finally get a videogame adaptation that respects the original source material. But for now, we are still waiting and I definitely cannot recommend this film to you. There’s plenty of other great films out at the moment, and this certainly isn’t one of them.
I give Assassin’s Creed a 4 out of 10.