Jake Richardson | 02/01/2016
The most recent big screen adaptation of a successful video game is certainly pretty and cinematically shot, but much too self-serious to surpass it’s ridiculous premise and become the first good video game adaptation.
Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed videogame series has been massively successful since the first release in 2007. It’s a property that in itself is incredibly cinematic, and has a devoted following. With the film adaptation, the decision has been made to stray from direct repetition of the video game storylines and to craft a new character and tale. Thus, we meet Cal Lynch (Michael Fassbender) – a death row inmate who is saved from the lethal injection machine only to wake up in Abstergo Industries. Abstergo is a mask for the modern day Templars (fronted in the film by Marion Cotillard’s Sofia and Jeremy Irons’ Rikkin), who believe that Cal is descended from the bloodline of their ancient enemies the Assassin’s Creed. They put him into a machine called The Animus, which uses his genetic memory to explore the actions of his ancestor Aguilar during the Spanish Inquisition, in order to discover what the long-dead assassin did with a mystical macguffin called The Apple; a tool to control the free will of all mankind.
While some of these plot points will be familiar to long time fans of the game, the shorter format of the film makes the explanation of the plot clunky. It isn’t unfolded over time. Rather, exposition is shoved down our throats by various characters. The Apple is such a laughable macguffin that it is a strange choice to deliver the plot in an incredibly self-serious matter. Fassbender barely cracks a grin for the majority of the film, and the cinematography is incredibly dark. As the film progresses, the plot steadily unwinds to the point of incoherence, and you are forced to greet each new development with bemused incredulity.
Fassbender is good as Lynch, even though he doesn’t get the chance to flash his million-watt smile, and Cotillard also gives her underwritten character some pathos that probably wasn’t evident in the script. The rest of the supporting cast don’t make much of an impact, which is particularly surprising given the presence of Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson and Charlotte Rampling. It really is Fassbender’s movie, and in dual roles he certainly conveys a very interesting antihero. We root for Cal, even though we know he was on trial for murder. Eventually, it’s revealed that he killed a pimp in a throwaway line, which is a shame; the character and the performance were much more interesting when the audience faced the moral conflict of having a hero who was a murderer. Fassbender plays Cal with a wry sense of gallows humor, while his performance as Aguilar (perhaps constrained the productions’ choice to have all Spanish scenes performed in Spanish with English subtitles) is quiet, tense and savage.
Director Justin Kurzel (previously united with Fassbender and Cotillard on the excellent Macbeth) and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (also of Macbeth fame) bring a certain sense of cinematic credibility to the trashy script. It isn’t quite as beautiful as the masterpiece that was Macbeth, but these two know how to make a film look and feel entirely real and wholly picturesque at the same time. They also know how to get the best work out of the two leads, and this is imperative to add any sense of credibility or believability to the dialogue they have to perform.
Reassuringly, despite the trailers’ incessant and somewhat discordant use of modern music, the score from Jed Kurzel (yes, the director’s brother) is a beautiful blend of the new and the old, and fits excellently with the time period.
Additionally, the action is incredible. The parkour training has clearly paid off, and the fresh, innovative fight choreography and use of stunts is probably the best we have seen since John Wick.
Nevertheless, the basis of a good film is a good story, and Assassin’s Creed’s technical prowess can’t make up for the absolute non-existence of anything resembling a strong, interesting plot. The decision to abandon the games existing storylines and come up with something new (three credited screenwriters is always a bad sign), was unequivocally a bad one. It may have been due to a push from Ubisoft, who are reportedly incredibly protective of their creative property. The film surpasses the low bar set by previous video game adaptations, but Assassin’s Creed doesn’t achieve its goal of being the first good video game movie.
Kurzel, Cotillard and Fassbender reunite once more for what was touted as the first good video game adaptation, but despite their excellent working relationship, a strong score, beautiful cinematography and inventive real-life action sequences, Assassin’s Creed can’t survive the mortal wound inflicted by it’s po-faced, absolutely ridiculous script.