Assassin’s Creed is a game series ripe for the movie world. Its tale of entering the past through your ancestor’s DNA opens doors for a number of narrative opportunities, and the film adaptation makes strides, both good and bad, to set itself apart. This particular story stars Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds, X-Men) and Marion Cotillard (Dark Knight Rises, Allied), and is directed by Justin Kurzel, best known for his 2015 take on Macbeth. It centers on the games’ all-important Apple of Eden, an artifact that can be used to control the free will of mankind. The Templars seek this control, while the Assassins want to keep it out of their hands. It’s a classic good-versus-evil scenario that drives the story through both awesome action and some poor narrative choices.
The biggest question you’ll have going into the movie is whether or not it does right by fans of the game series. The necessary elements are all here: the Animus, the hidden blade, the Templars, and there is a short list of inside jokes for the hardcore crowd. And in terms of establishing its hero, protagonist Callum Lynch (Fassbender) has an origin story not unlike Desmond Miles, the star of the game series.
Callum led a normal life (well, as normal as one can lead when raised by Assassins) in a rural Texas town, until his mother died at the hands of his own father. Cut to about 30 years later and Callum is on death row. But his execution is faked, and he finds himself a prisoner of Abstergo, a strange company bent on digging into his ancestral past, which will guide them to the location of the Apple of Eden. He’s one of many Assassins in this facility, though his ancestral ties offer Abstergo its best chance yet at pilfering that Apple. Fassbender’s performance is expectedly strong, as he wrestles with either serving these captors or sparking a rebellion and escaping with his fellow prisoners.
But despite Fassbender’s best, he can only act out what’s been written. Several of his actions come out of the blue, and feel totally unjustified in the grand scheme of the film. In fact, a few key moments that lead into the movie’s finale are given zero explanation. Instead of foreshadowing or implying what is to come, the viewer is dropped into the heat of the moment, resulting in confusion during times when they should be cheering for the hero.
That lack of context is not exclusive to Fassbender’s character, however. Moussa, a fellow Abstergo experimentee played by Michael K. Williams (The Wire, 12 Years a Slave), doesn’t ever speak like a regular human being, and is only given platitude after platitude to say. He doesn’t come across wise, but as pretentious. Other Abstergo prisoners and would-be Assassins aren’t given the necessary development, and deliver equally banal dialogue. As a result, they come across as dumb, rather than profound.
Callum is plunged back into his past to relive the memories of Aguilar, an assassin that fought in the Inquisition. This is achieved using the Animus, a device that can tap into memories encoded into a person's DNA, and the movie's interpretation is very fun to watch. Rather than use the cybernetic tanning bed of the games, the film straps Callum into a giant claw that twists about the room as he moves in the past. This is overlayed on ghostly historical images in a few shots, and makes for some great visuals.
All of the issues so far pertain to the modern-day portion of Assassin’s Creed. Fortunately, the other chunk of the film, set during the Spanish Inquisition, fares much better. You’ll find yourself just waiting for Callum to go back into the Animus so you can see more of the past.
What you’ll see during the Spanish Inquisition is a treat thanks to stunt choreography. There’s a large amount of stunt work in both time periods, but where the present day leans into fisticuffs and weapon fights, the past shines much brighter with its focus on parkour. High-altitude climbs, rooftop runs, the iconic Leap of Faith--it all looks fantastic, and it was almost entirely done using practical effects, which gives it a sense of believability. This is no small feat for a movie about people leaping impossible distances. In fact, the few stunts that were blended with CG for safety’s sake only stand out because the practical shots are so strong.
Sadly, the rush of these Spanish Inquisition scenes is fleeting. Though it’s explained in the narrative, Doctor Sophia Rikkin (Cotillard) frequently pulls Callum from the Animus at the height of the action. One of the movies biggest sins is to cut away from the Leap of Faith, which results in a loss of impact for the series’ most iconic maneuver.
Where the Assassin’s Creed games lean heavily into the past, the movie gives too much attention to the present. This leads to a messy narrative broken up by some truly engaging historical action scenes. But just like Callum being yanked out at the height of the action, you’ll feel unsatisfied by the whole experience. Moment to moment, it’s a fun action flick; as a whole, it’ll leave you feeling shortchanged.
And you just might get more, as Assassin’s Creed blatantly sets itself up for a sequel in the final moments. Perhaps a second entry will solve a lot of these problems, but as it stands, it’s hard to recommend this film unless you’re willing to put up with a lot of sloppy plot development for a few genuinely good action scenes.
|The Good||The Bad|
|Satisfying action scenes with real stunts.||Too much focus on the present day.|
|A cool reinterpretation of the Animus.||Sloppy story beats.|
|Some Easter eggs for fans of the games.||Underdeveloped supporting characters.|