Assassin’s Creed is one of the biggest video game franchise, with nine full games and 17 spin-off titles. So it was only a matter of time before Hollywood got its hands on this tale of conflict spread across centuries between Assassins and Knights Templar.
Looking at the early reviews I felt like this was probably going to be the first good video game movie but it wasn’t. According to the early reviewers, the movie was quite sincere to the source material and I agree but probably that was the thing that annoyed a lot of folks.
The film begins with a childhood flashback for lead character Calum Lynch, played by Michael Fassbender before we meet him the present day, where he’s executed for committing murder. Of course, he’s not really killed, and he wakes up in the Abstergo complex. That, sadly, is about all we learn about Calum, and we learn even less about his alter ego, Aguilar, which leaves the movie with a strange imbalance where we know a lot more about the bad guys than the good.
When it becomes clear that Cal is the last descendant of the Assassins brotherhood, the Rikkins want to plug back into the ancestral memories lodged in his DNA. Using cutting-edge VR tech called ‘the Animus’ – a staple for those familiar with the video game series. This could lead them to the location of the fabled Apple through his adventures during the Spanish Inquisition. Why? “To pioneer new ways to end violence,” he is told, one of the more frustratingly vague elements of the script by Adam Cooper and Bill Collage (who penned Exodus: Gods and Kings) and Michael Lesslie (Kurzel’s Macbeth).
Knowing the video games helped a lot, as many story elements are lifted directly from the games with very little explanation. It left my movie-going companions bewildered, describing the film as “a bit of a mess”.
The movie is set in two timelines, the past, and the present. It spends the majority of its time in the present day, with just three long fight sequences set in the past. You may think that with so little time spent in the past, the movie has missed what made the franchise so great, and you may be right. As whenever the movie was in the past it was amazing but as it switches to the present time it instantly becomes boring.
As the movie works towards its climax, it does lose focus. There is a scene with Calum standing in a wrecked Animus that really confused everyone else I saw the movie with, but again, I actually felt it was a lovely Easter egg for fans of the games. Additionally, the last ten minutes of the film really did not need to exist and are there just to set up the sequel.
Unfortunately, the wait for a great video game movie adaptation continues – as Assassin’s Creed is a messy combination of pros and cons: slick action, intriguing sci-fi concepts, and rich cinematography are undercut by flat drama, convoluted world-building, and (considering its heady premise) a surprisingly uninspired character journey.